Fulham have become part of the Premier League furniture over the last decade. They are rarely in relegation trouble but they are a consistent mid table side. Strangely, they are surrounded by uncertainty after a stuttering start to the season, with Martin Jol emerging as an early favourite to be the first Premier League manager to be sacked. The Dutchman has tried to change the image of the club, from an efficient mid table unit to an entertaining side full of mavericks. It has yet to pay dividends and unless the team starts to get results, it’s a change that could cost him his job.
The summer may have created an exciting feeling around the club with the possibility of Bryan Ruiz, Dimitar Berbatov and Adel Taarabt playing behind Darren Bent. If they are played correctly, it is a front four which is filled with goals and creativity. Sadly Fulham don’t have the defensive personnel to accommodate all four into the starting eleven. Scott Parker was an inspired signing which has been proven already, with a 100% tackle success rate and a pass completion rate of 88.39%. He needs a midfield partner who can run with the ball, to get it from the defence and to the front four. Parker can then focus on winning the ball and retaining it. With Steve Sidwell next to him, Parker will be expected to take on the responsibility of feeding the front four and that simply isn’t his strength.
It’s difficult to see any real shape to the Fulham side with some players wandering around at will. During the away match against Newcastle, Berbatov was playing a central midfield role for the majority of the game, which is ridiculous as the Bulgarian is most dangerous in the final third. This may have been a result of Fulham’s incredibly negative away tactics, as the team has only managed three shots on target in their opening two away games. They were very lucky to take three points against Sunderland and it was foolish of Jol to expect a similar result at Newcastle, with the same negative style of play. Jol is also tinkering with the starting eleven each week, which is only going to confuse the players as to which system the manager is trying to implement and this really shows on the field.
The side dropped points at home on Saturday, this is rare for Fulham, especially against a bottom half club like West Brom. They only had two shots on target, which again shows that Jol is struggling to create a side that allows their attacking mavericks to flourish. This makes it look like Jol has signed some of these players without even thinking about how he will get the best out of them. Their attacking issue is highlighted by the fact that two of Fulham’s three goals this season came from set pieces, emphasising their problems with creating chances in open play.
On a brighter note, Fulham do look solid defensively which gives them something to build on going forward. They have been unfortunate in the last two games that they have conceded two late goals (85 minutes+), which may show that the back four loses focus towards the end of match. The midfield duo of Sidwell and Parker gives the defence more cover, so Fulham are even harder to break down, as sides have found so far this season. If Fulham find a link between their solid defence and their exciting attacking players, they will be a side to be reckoned with. Without this, they will continue to struggle to score in open play.
They will also continue to struggle if Jol continues to tinker with his array of attacking talent. He needs to choose a formation which best suits his squad and brings out the best in Berbatov, who is without doubt their best player. At the moment the Bulgarian is hindered by the tactical ineptness shown by Jol. As Fulham lack a central midfielder who can link the defence and the attack to play alongside Parker, Fulham need to go back to their 4-4-1-1 formation. They have hard working wingers in Damien Duff and Alexander Kačaniklić, who would allow Fulham to return to their effective style of football. Then he can pick between Ruiz and Taarabt to play behind Berbatov.
Martin Jol certainly has an impending crisis on his hands if things don’t pick up over the next couple of weeks. It is how he tries to stop the slide which will determine whether he stays in a job or not.