If you are looking for a book to find on the subject of how easy you can get yourself sacked, Slavisa Jokanovic found it today.
Call it harsh all you want, but losing 4-2 to the worst team in the Premier League and to have them double their goal tally for the season is definitely enough to completely lose trust from the supporters. There’s just no other way around it. Enough articles from the mainstream media and from the blogosphere have stated that Slav has to change his formation. He has to change his tactics and systems that would accomadate his crowded room of center backs. He has to play other players in order to compliment everyone and their nine figure summer transfer budget on the pitch. Smarter substitutions have to happen if a crisis were to come about.
None of that happened today.
First, Jokanovic stuck with his 4-3-3 formation that has made his defense look like swiss cheese time and again. Next, he stayed beligerent by having Kevin McDonald, who seems to be growing more gray hair by the day, over Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa even though the pedigree, age curve and statistics suggest that you should always do otherwise. Then, he thought it was a good idea to, in spite of not having Joe Bryan available to injury, to play Ryan Sessegnon up front over Luciano Vietto, who just so happens to be Fulham’s most creative player.
Before I even tell you what happened at Cardiff, all those details are enough to get you sacked in the morning. But this is a match report, so I guess I have no choice but to poor salt on this wound. Now it didn’t seem like this day would turn into anything unpleasent when Andre Schurrle continued to defy the expected goals gods and unleash a beautiful right footed shot that kissed the top right corner passed Neil Etheridge outside of the penalty area. Fourteen minutes in, you would have thought that this match was going to be a piece of cake.
Instead, Cardiff was on the counter right away. Time and again, they harried back four that permanently seemed clueless as to how to execute the game plan. But when you have Denis Odoi and Maxime Le Marchand at fullback even though they were almost fully fledged center backs as of last season, what else can you expect? In the 19th minute, Cardiff tied the contest off a blistering run by Josh Murphy that exposed Odoi’s positioning massively. With Calum Chambers not able to close down Murphy in time, the latter’s shot deflected off the former and past Marcus Bettinelli into the bottom right hand corner.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, Fulham gave up a free kick just outside the penalty area. When Cardiff tried to execute it, it was getting fluffed all over the place until Fulham made a statement that they can do one better. The ball was constantly getting ricocheted until it fell on the feet of Tim Ream, but last year’s player of the season completely missed it in true 2006 Paul Robinson fashion so that Bobby Reid can be able to pounce on it from point blank range. Before you know it, Reid easily tucked it past Bettinelli and the doom began to feel inevitable.
But that was until Sessegnon was able to take advantage of some admittedly poor refereeing (Fulham drawing a foul moments after Cardiff should’ve been given one themselves) that set up a nifty set piece routine that started halfway. A long ball by Calum Chambers was delivered to Stefan Johansen who found Aleksander Mitrovic doing his usual work of standing up his man. But instead of turning and shooting, Mitro delivered an exquisite back heel pass to a cutting Sessegnon into the penalty area. From there, the 18-year old sensation punished Cardiff again by beating Joe Bennett and Neil Etheridge with a one-touch rocket to make it 2-2.
Even at its best, the fixture felt like a fate worse than death between two teams that don’t have a clue how to play top flight football. When Fulham were able to do common sense things with the ball, they were able to turn their back four and Etheridge into punching bag. It was just two bad that they only had three shots on goal despite 53% possession. Fulham were constantly clumsy in defense and deservedly picked up three yellow cards in the opening 45 minutes alone. Cardiff, meanwhile had nine shots in the first half and were showing why they finished no lower than second in the Championship. They know who they are and were able to execute Neil Warnock’s basic, but effective, gameplan to perfection.
Just writing that sentence alone will get ya sacked in the morning. But we’re not done yet. First, Calum Chambers was subbed off for Alfie Mawson to start the second half to supposedly improve the defense. Let’s not forget that Ream is also coming off of injury and made such a miserable era that it’ll get you subbed in an Under-18 game, let alone a Premier League fixture. Then, once again, Jokanovic decided it was a good idea to replace Jean-Michael Seri, Fulham’s record transfer addition and should be Fulham’s most coveted player, so early in the second half for Floyd Ayite. I get Ayite is potent in attack, but why put him on at a time in which the contest is still 2-2 and for such a two-way force in Seri that it would split the team apart tactically?
Surely enough, Fulham’s midfield was cut to pieces thanks to some passing that made you feel like time slowed down so much. Everytime the ball moved, you felt like a Fulham defender should easily intercept this pass. Instead, the ball got towards the penalty area for only Calum Patterson being able to make a strike, that again, moved at a pace that was perfect for a snail’s pace that it should have been an easy save for Bettinelli to make. Instead, a shot that was expected to go in 11% of the time according to Understat, got in 100% of the time because Bettinelli was so horrifyingly flat footed before he could even be able to make the diving save to the left-hand corner. Wales’ capital was in delirium not knowing what was happening or how they were able to get such a gift.
Just when you thought everything couldn’t have gotten any worse, a set piece play was broken up to the point where the man of the hour, Ream, had the ball coming to his feet. Once again, he swung and missed and Cardiff were on the break. Before you know it, Victor Camarasa found a streaking Kadeem Harris to put the nail on the coffin.
Against one of the worst attacking units in the Premier League, Fulham gave up 22 shots and four goals. Against one of the worst goalkeepers in the Premier League, Fulham were only able to test him nine times. Simply put, Fulham blew it and it will take more than soul searching for this football club for how they should be properly run from top top bottom to be able to compete next week, let alone be able to survive this first season in England’s top flight.