If you want a perfect example as to why Claudio Ranieri has been downright awful for Fulham, this game is it.
First, he decided that, despite Fulham playing their best football in months with a 4-2-3-1 system with their second half performance against Brighton, to go with a 3-4-3 formation with Tom Ciarney as a wide forward instead. In the most predictable way imaginable, Fulham couldn’t create anything with speed because Fulham’s star man was shoved in the corner when he really should be roaming centrally and pinging passes towards the fullbacks where they can pound on the ball with no one in front of them. Then, in the second half, yes Luciano Vietto scored a goal last Tuesday and was such a key substitute in that victory. But considering how slow he is as an athlete, Ryan Sessegnon should have come on instead of the Argentinian at half time.
As a result of all the horrific management by the tinkerman tinkering so poorly, Fulham were outshot 17-8 and conceded 10 corner kicks while they only took just one. We all know that are a slow team, individually. But if you rely on the quick one-touch passing of Cairney and Jean Michael Seri, the ball is what will do the work to get players moving quickly. Instead, Cyrus Christie and ESPECIALLY Timothy Fosu-Mensah couldn’t trust to put a right-footed cross into the penalty area for Aleksander Mitrovic to feed. Joe Bryan couldn’t get anywhere past the daddy longlegs of a man that is Aaron Wan-Bissaka. If that youngster doesn’t get a move towards a upper echelon English side in the near future, fire every director of football in that tier!!!
Some will argue that if Mitrovic were to put a more accurate header when he was so wide open on a Bryan cross back in the 10th minute, this game could have been much more different. But that’s plenty of a would-a-could-a-should-a there. Instead, Crystal Palace tried to do what they do best: go after teams with their opportunistic pressing game and feed the ball to there central forwards as much as possible.
Jordan Ayew scared the tar out of any Fulham center back and drew yellow cards to both of them when he was able to collect the ball and turn with no one else in front of him. And while Christian Benteke may look so rusty after being out of the Palace side since September, his big body was enough of a nuisance to draw the penalty to set up the first penalty of the game. With him and Christie battling for a long ball, both were flailing their arms up to get in the air, but it was the latter’s limb that touched the ball and for referee Michael Oliver to blow his whistle.
In came Luka Milivojevic to slot it just past Sergio Rico to make it 1-0. In some ways, the game was done and dusted from there because nothing else really happened from there besides a sort of fun overhead kick by Benteke. Otherwise, it was just Fulham having to do something with the ball because the game state dictated everything else for how the rest of the 90 minutes were played. Crystal Palace were ever so happy to take a nap in their own half and wait for any idiot screwing up. Fulham had to score with 11 men behind the ball because they had to go for the win.
But as mentioned in the beginning, Fulham didn’t need to be in a situation where they play to score with 11 men in front of them. They really could have gone much more direct with Mitrovic and allow their wide players to go after any of the Serbian’s holding play. That is exactly what happened last Tuesday, but Ryan Babel, Cairney, Vietto and late substitute Floyd Ayite were shepherded outside the box and out wide all night instead. If Sessegnon were on, we could have seen much more direct play to Mitrovic and for Sessegnon to make those runs into the penalty area that he was so good at all last season. Think the Liverpool near miss and his goal against Cardiff City as perfect examples.
The rest of the way, Crystal Palace was able to go on 4-on-3, 5-on-4, 3-on-2 runs when they had their chances to breakup opposition play and draw corners every time they had the chance. Fulham’s defense was much more resolute than their numbers indicated, but until they sort out their attack in a consistent manner, they’ll always find a way to give up clear cut chances. Surely enough, Crystal Palace found their breakthrough thanks to substitute Michi Batshuayi having his shot saved by Rico only for Jeffrey Schlupp to collect the rebound and tap it home and seal the game.
James Tomkins would be thrown all the cliche’s in the world by possibly playing with a broken nose the last 20 or so minutes of the game and Mamadou Sakho did solid work keeping Mitrovic in check, but otherwise Crystal Palace didn’t do much to spoil Fulham’s night. If anything Fulham did it to themselves. Add in a victory by Cardiff City today and it makes this performance all the more unforgiveable. Now Fulham are back to square one again. That’s how bad seasons work. They go one step forward and ten steps back. So much for any optimism the rest of the way.