When Dimitar Berbatov ended his seven-game scoring drought against Southampton, the elegant Bulgarian unveiled a shirt that read “Keep Calm and Pass me the Ball.” A surprisingly forthright gesture from a normally laid-back player, the message suggested that Berbatov thought Fulham’s recent struggles had been due to not focusing their play through their top scorer.
Fulham are an exciting team to watch, scoring 1.52 goals per game while conceding 1.78. The Cottagers, currently sit 14th in the league, but take the 11th most shots and have the 9th highest pass success percentage. Martin Jol’s squad have been dealing with injuries to many of their defense-minded midfielders such as Mahamadou Diarra, so in many ways it seems that they’ve had little option but to play as offensively as possible. Players such as Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz are given license to stay high up the pitch and expend all their energy on attacking and creating goals for their teammates.
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Looking at the data it seems obvious that Dimitar Berbatov is being underutilized by Fulham compared to how other teams are using their top scorers. Despite being the most accurate of the players listed above, and second best at converting clear chances, Berbatov has to wait the longest for a shot. While clubs like Liverpool and Newcastle are giving their superstars as many opportunities as possible to put the ball in the net, Berbatov is being pushed to the periphery by Fulham.
Comparing this version of Berbatov to the player that scored 20 goals for Manchester United in the 2010/11 season, it’s clear how effective he can be when given opportunities. Although the Bulgarian’s shooting accuracy was the same as when he was surrounded by more talented teammates than at Fulham, at United he shot every 28 minutes instead of every 37. That’s the difference between an elite striker scoring 20+ a season and a decent one hovering around 12-15 goals.
Perhaps some of the difference can be attributed to personality. If Luis Suarez is denied a chance to shoot from a position he deems good enough he will make everyone around him aware, vociferously. If Berbatov is passed up in a similar position perhaps he will shrug it off, not because he doesn’t think he’s good enough, but because he’s just not that type of player.
Either way, Berbatov cannot influence the team for the better when he doesn’t have the ball, as his T-shirt explained. Without the ball at his feet he cannot score or feed his teammates, as he demonstrated at the start of his Fulham career by picking up three assists.
With the creative heartbeat of Fulham in Bryan Ruiz returning to fitness, perhaps the amount of shots Fulham take will start to increase as they use their possession better. But as the gross number increases, it must not be lost that the percentage of shots taken by Berbatov must also increase.
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.