When Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembele left Craven Cottage to join Tottenham Hotspur, it left many pundits and fans alike predicting a long and tough road ahead for Fulham. Dempsey, an American international, was coming off a remarkable season in which he scored 17 league goals, a record for the club. While manager Martin Jol remained confident publicly of signing Dempsey to an extension, the writing was on the wall when he failed to report for any of the preseason activities. Dembele on the other hand, was a skillful midfielder who had joined the club in the summer of 2010 from AZ Alkmaar and was improving every season. Although the destination of his departure came as a surprise, after being linked with a move to Real Madrid, most supporters of the Cottagers came to the realization that retaining the Belgian would be nearly impossible.
While the capture of Dimitar Berbatov is likely the club’s biggest acquisition to date, the general feeling was that Berbatov would be able to make up for a portion of the goals lost from the Spurs duo. Through 7 appearances for the club, the Bulgarian has scored 5 times and made 3 assists, including scoring a pair of goals and assisting on a third in last weekend’s thrilling 3-3 draw at Arsenal. Although this level of production is unlikely to continue for the entirety of the season, it appears as though the former co-golden boot winner has plenty left in the tank. Moreover, his overall quality up front appears to be having a great impact on his new teammates, as the likes of Damien Duff, Alex Kacaniklic and Bryan Ruiz are enjoying tremendous seasons as well.
Through 11 games, Fulham sit 9th in the table with a record of 4-4-3, collecting 16 points. Remarkably, they have scored 24 goals, second only to Manchester United’s 29. Conversely, they have conceded 19, more than every club other than bottom feeders Southampton and Queens Park Rangers. To give those numbers a little bit of perspective, they have scored exactly half of the goals (24 of 48) that they scored all of last season, and given up approximately 40% of last season’s total through 11 games. Interestingly, Fulham finished the 2011/2012 in exactly the same position (9th) that they find themselves in now.
This article looks at the differences between this season and last for Fulham FC, by comparing relevant offensive and defensive stats. Additionally, the author weighs in about what this perceived change in style really means for Fulham.
This chart shows the offensive statistics for Fulham from the 2011/2012 season on the left (in red), and the numbers from the first 11 games of this season. Passing completion percentage is up in all 5 areas examined, with the most pronounced change occurring in the final 3rd. This has risen from 68% last season to 73% now, a 5% increase. Although the 2% increase in the other passing areas may appear to have little effect, over the course of a 38 game season that translates into a lot of passes. Furthermore, Fulham have made 5 assists from set plays already this year, while only totaling 6 all of last year. This is mostly due to an in form Bryan Ruiz, as well as finally having a target man up front in Berbatov. As previously mentioned, they’ve halved their goal total from last year, while additionally creating half of their assists (32) from that same time. Minutes played per goal scored is dramatically up, as Fulham are currently averaging a goal per half (43 minutes), compared to scoring on average every 75 minutes in the 2011/2012 season.
Shooting accuracy has also improved this year, from 50% in 2011/2012 to 57% this season. Finally, the chance conversion percentage and clear cut chance conversion percentage show an increase from 12% to 20% and 38% to 50%, respectively. Having multiple in form players, such as Berbatov, Ruiz, Duff, and Kacaniklic, as opposed to relying solely on Dempsey and Dembele(who were prone to the occasional off game) is likely the reason for these dramatic improvements.
At the back
As previously mentioned, Fulham have given up more goals than all but 2 teams this season (Southampton and QPR). Goals conceded per game have gone from 1.34 in 2011/2012 to 1.73 this season. Interestingly, aerial 50-50 winning percentage and tackle success are up from 50% to 58% and 77% to 79% respectively. On the ground however, they have won 4% less (51% to 47%) than they did last year. Additionally, Fulham are yet to record a successful last man tackle, which they did 3 times last year. Finally, the Cottagers have made a defensive error on average every 17 minutes more often this season than last (260 versus 277).
While many would argue that Fulham have made a mostly positive start to the season, they are currently in the same position in the table that they finished last year (9th). The difference however, is how they have gotten themselves there. A notoriously low scoring and dreadful team away from home, Fulham have lost only 2 of their first 6 games on the road this season, scoring 12 goals in the process. They also had very late leads at Southampton and Reading that they weren’t able to hold, that subsequently ended in draws. Although it would be foolish to assume that they will finish the season 2nd in goals scored, it would be equally so to presume such a poor defensive record for the duration of the season. A 9th place finish would likely satisfy most fans but there is legitimacy to the claim that finishing above that is achievable. With Martin Jol recently hinting that new arrivals could be on the way in January (Darren Bent’s name surfaced last week), the balanced attack continuing to roll, and some improvements holding late game leads in the defensive third, there is no reason to think that a top 7 finish is unattainable. However, regardless of the outcome, this team is finally beginning to play the exciting, attacking brand of football that Jol has been trying to instill since taking charge of the club.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.