With a scoreline so lobsided last Saturday, plenty of Fulham supporters would love to forget about what happened up at Goodison Park and focus on getting ready for their home fixture against Arsenal. But sometimes, diving into the past can explain what can happen to Fulham in the future.
I explained last week how the club have consistently been a poor first half team that tries to kick it back up in the second half. Fortunately, the reverse happened this time around and it looked like Fulham set themselves up for a good result after a solid first 45 minutes. They were only outshot 5-6, had four blocked shots to Everton’s none, and of their 14 tackles, 11 of them occured in Everton’s half of the pitch. As a result, the home were only able to generate 0.25 expected goals off of their chances. It was quite clear that needing two banks of midfield and defense were once again critical to a successful day out at Goodison Park and Slavisa Jokanovic’s side were working to it to a tee.
Along with that, plenty of the new starters in Jokanovic’s XI were putting in great shifts. Those most responsible were Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa with five tackles and an interception in the first half and Tim Ream with five interceptions of his own.
In attack, Fulham once again were back to their “feed the ball to Aleksander Mitrovic or shrug emoji” style of attack as the big Serbian would produce three shots in the first half alone. It should be noted that world class players usually get somewhere between two to three per contest, so that goes to show what type of playing field Mitrovic has been throughout the start of this season. However, Ryan Sessegnon and Andre Schurrle were the only ones to produce a single shot. Lastly, Joe Bryan was able to unleash the club’s loan successful cross the entire opening frame.
On the other side, Idrissa Gueye was absolutely everywhere with six tackles, three interceptions and two key passes. The Senegal International was critical to Everton’s efforts of stymieing Fulham’s attack and would end up being Everton’s best player in setting up chances as well with a club-leading 1.09 xGChain and xGBuildup throughout the contest. And while we all paid attention to Gueye’s exploits, Jonjoe Kenny’s three tackles, two interceptions and 0.82 match long xGChain shouldn’t be ignored either.
Gylfi Sigurdsson also had a part to play with two shots and two key passes in the first half that would go on to reverberate through the rest of the second half. That being said, it seemed like there was too much reliance on Theo Walcott (three dribbles, 1 shot) and Richarlison (four dribbles, three times dispossessed, 1 key pass, two shots) to create chances in attack and Fulham were able to sniff both speedsters and master dribblers well.
So while the first half seemed to be like a defensive stalemate, Everton were a bit more diverse in their creativity in attack. If they were to just cut out the poor shot quality, they would be on their way. Sadly for Fulham supporters, that is exactly what happened. It was quite amazing that Everton had just 53.6% in the second half, because a 13-1 shot advantage painted a much better picture to how the second half unfolded. Any cute individual displays that slowed the game down and allowed Fulham to settle were just not there anymore (two total dribbles in the second half) and Everton were able to connect passes into the final third more as a result. Along with that, the home side were much better on their own end in wiping out any possession Jokanovic’s team wanted to have thanks to a 20-14 advantage in defensive contributions. It wasn’t necessarily a press (3-2 in defensive contributions in the attacking half), but it was effective enough to springboard bursting runs down both flanks and set up the latter two of Everton’s three goals.
Oh, and that man, Gylfi Sigurdsson? Yeah, he was pretty incredible. Just having two goals alone was huge in giving him this distinction. But just in this final stanza alone, he had three key passes, four shots, three successful tackles and an amazing 13 crosses (!!!).
Meanwhile, where on earth was Jean-Michael Seri?! Sure, he was quite bad in defeat to Manchester City, but so many have been during this past 14 months of terror at the Etihad Stadium. Everton are not Manchester City and because of that, this has to go down as the star Ivorian’s worst performance in his early Fulham career. In the second half, Seri only had just 12 completed passes and seemed so stuck in his side’s own end of the pitch. With just one key pass in the entire contest, there was definitive reasons for him to come off in the 84th minute. Tom Cairney did his best to perform well in his 30-minute cameo and was admirable with his 24 completed passes, but there was no product whatsoever to what he was doing on the pitch (0.00 xG Buildup and xG Chain). When your two most important players on the pitch aren’t producing, a 3-0 defeat just seems inevitable.
Lastly, I want to talk about Marcus Bettinelli. It was a strange afternoon for him because he had to deal with a football ground that doesn’t do well with having consistent sunlight throughout the pitch. As afternoon became evening in Mersyside, the vision of Bettinelli’s was clearly being affected and it was no surprise with his decision to put on a cap for his assistance. Sadly, Bettinelli was dreadful after he had to deal with a Sigurdsson penalty that went off the crossbar. Such is the irony that football delivers on a daily basis. In spite of giving up 1.05 expected goals by his defense, Bettinelli gave up three, with two of them from which he stood like a statue and having no idea how to handle the shot that was coming towards him.
Would any of those potential saves been the difference? Probably, but for the most part, probably not. If anything, the fact that Fulham’s holding midfielder was the only player to produce a shot in the second half is the even more worrying stat. Simply put, the rest of Fulham’s attacking players have to start producing goals. If you take away such a wonderful performance against Burnley, the leaderboard would show Mitrovic with three goals and Schurrle with his loan goal against Brighton. That’s it! Mitrovic might win the Premier League’s golden ball and the club might still be relegated. That genuinely could happen if they don’t fix things in a hurry. Until that changes, supporters will wonder if this club is good at anything at this level. Here’s to hoping they find solutions the rest of this autumn, let alone Saturday’s outing against Arsenal.