If you were to look at the final and the basic stats, you would have though Fulham were played off the park by one of the best football clubs in the Premier League. Tottenham had Harry Kane score his first goal in August. They went on to have a 25-10 advantage in shots and their 2.88-1.42 expected goals advantage went hand-in-hand with the actual goal tally. And to put the cherry on top, Tottenham went on to have 59.6% possession of the ball compared to Fulham’s 40.4%. This was predictable considering the level of competition Slavisa Jokanovic’s team was going to be tasked to face as long as they are in this division. That still doesn’t excuse the fact that this level of dominance from the opposition was just staggering.
Clearly, Fulham were also struggling to handle Tottenham’s pressing game from the word go. Fulham might have had the edge in defensive actions 13-8 in the first half, but when you don’t have the ball, you expect dominance in that department. To go along with that, Tottenham had five of their eight defensive actions occur in the opposition half of the pitch. Fulham only had one! The ring leader on this forefront was January signing Lucas Moura who really looks accustomed to what is required by manager Mauricio Pochettino. We’ll talk about his attacking efforts later, but the attacking midfielder’s eight combined defensive actions (six tackles, two interceptions) was quite impressive on the day. By the time the halftime whistle blew, Spurs used their style of play to generate 129 passes that were completed in the attacking third of the pitch compared to Fulham’s 46.
The individual leader in that particular category was Kieran Trippier with 36 as he was burning every blade of grass on the right-hand side. His passing wasn’t the most crisp throughout the game, but his crosses were still lethal enough to create chaos along Fulham’s back line as two of Trippier’s passes lead to Moura’s goal and the missed gaping header also by Moura in the opening five minutes. On the other hand, Joe Bryan and Aboubakar Kamara were tied for the Fulham lead with nine completed attacking third passes in the first half. So even if Fulham were getting burned defensively out wide, it’s not like they weren’t able to fight fire with fire either.
By the time the second half came about, Fulham came out with a much more efficient attack. From the whistle to the 64th minute, the good guys genuinely had a 5-1 edge in shots and created enough parody in passing to make the game seem as even as it was. And by expected goals count, the ticker read that both teams had a 1.09-1.09 draw in that department. Fulham’s attack was efficient. Tottenham’s seemed to have lost a gear.
But just when Fulham were about to make last Saturday’s contest one of the greatest results in Jokanovic’s tenure, Pochettino decided to make the changes. Along with that, he did so while hitting Fulham supporters square in the heart. Spurs went on to deploy a 3-5-2 formation that was dabbled on last season instead of the 4-2-3-1 formation that has been used throughout almost all of Pochettino’s tenure. Mainly, this was to return the favor towards center back Toby Aldeweirald who is still with the club after losing his place in the starting XI this past campaign. If you were to start for World Cup semifinalists Belgium, you would have left for any club on the first offer too. Instead, Aldeweirald repaid the manager’s inclusion of him by doing yeoman’s work in defense and limiting Kamara’s ability in attack.
However, Tottenham’s midfield seemed to worsen in the second half as Fulham were constantly getting passed their fullbacks while Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen were just not putting enough of a stamp on the game as they should have. That is where Pochettino decided to revert back to the 4-2-3-1 by replacing center back Davinson Sanchez with former Fulham man Moussa Dembele. With the latter’s inclusion, Spurs were able to push up Eriksen and Alli while forming a double pivot with Eric Dier to stifle the Tom Cairney-Jean-Michael Seri axis for Fulham.
In the beginning of the second half, Fulham had five of their nine total key passes occur. By the time Dembele set foot on the pitch, only one key pass was generated, and that was by Kamara. Along with that, Spurs brought back their attacking advantage with an 87-15 destruction in attacking third passes as well as having nine of their last ten defensive actions occur in the attacking half of the pitch. Add in the Erik Lamela substitution that resulted in him coming out like a whirling dervish (insert downhill run that led to the assist on the Harry Kane goal here), and a referee in latex gloves might as well have come in to call of the rest of this boxing match.
In short, Tottenham dictated the tempo throughout the entire first half, Fulham showed their quality in the next 16 minutes, but were beaten to a pulp throughout the rest of the match once the changes came in. You could argue plenty of this has to do with the lack of chemistry from a Fulham side that is still getting accustomed to have 12 new players on board. You could also argue that the fact that three of Fulham’s five goals against have now come after the 70th minute that there is a lack of match fitness to have them prepared for Premier League competition. I personally would think it’s the former for now, but if anything, this is an area that is becoming the first of a handful of concerns for Fulham.
But for now, it’s just a matter of shaking off the dirt and moving on to Sunday at the Cottage for a showdown against Burnley. More possession should be expected, but will the result be different too?
Update: As a result of Fulham playing Burnley on Sunday, Fulham’s Carabao Cup tie with Exeter City will be on Tuesday night.