Friday, 6 March 2015

Rival Lines: players not solely to blame for Fulham's league position

Rival Lines
Match Preview
Fulham v AFCB
Blogger Interview: Cottagers Confidential

Last weekend I managed to fly some questions over the Atlantic to Andrew Beck at Fulham Blog Cottagers Confidential to ask him what he thought of Fulham's sudden improvement and what he thought about the job that Kit Symons is doing at the Cottage and whether Fulham's players have fully embraced the Championship?

CC: It was a great win against Derby and a big help to AFCB, but is it annoying that the team has not played to that standard all season?

FBCC: It has been a frustrating season for Fulham supporters. But in reality it's been a frustrating couple of years. On 1 April 2013 Fulham had 39 points with eight matches left to play. They had a chance to finish strong and in the top 10. Instead, they only managed four points in their last eight matches. Then they continued that form into 2013-14. That malaise continued under Magath to start this year. With only one point in their first seven matches this year, it was always going to be a challenge to salvage the year. The number one goal in my opinion, once Kit Symons was appointed, was to finish mid-table and then worry about next year. There was an outside shot at the play-offs, but even that was unlikely.

CC: You play Wigan, Rotherham and Blackpool in April so that could be your season just there I suppose?

FBCC: It could, but I don't think it will. Fulham are eight points clear of the relegation spots. They're closer to 10th than they are to twenty second. Plus, I think Fulham are simply better than a lot of the teams around them. I truly believe Fulham are better than Birmingham City, Leeds United, Reading, and Bolton. I find it hard to believe that three of the five teams below Fulham will pass them without any of those other teams falling below them as well.

CC: I am guessing that you won't need to get too many points in your last two fixtures against promotion chasing Middlesbrough and Norwich - could you do AFCB a favour in those games?

FBCC: Well Middlesbrough is at home and Fulham do have quite a history of breaking the hearts of Norwich fans, so stranger things have happened. However, it could end up with those games having no meaning left for Fulham. Counting on a team with nothing to play for to do you favors can be dangerous.

CC: Looking at how well Brentford are doing do you get the feeling that Fulham's players are not giving enough to the cause this season and that they have not really embraced the Championship?

FBCC: I don't think you can put too much on the players. Felix Magath was horrible in his first seven games and almost every player he brought in has failed or already departed. At times Fulham have started a midfield with every player 22 or younger. There's a good base to build on, but the team needs some strengthening which has simply not happened in the last two windows.

CC: Does Kit Symons ever come out and say anything other than Fulham played really well but are just not getting the results that the team deserves - what's been going wrong of late? (I asked this pre-Derby result)

FBCC: Kit's actually less positive than recent managers. If you think he was positive you should have heard the things coming out of the mouth of Martin Jol and Rene Mulensteen. Symons actually called out the players last week, which I took as a positive sign. Fulham's recent struggles can be chalked up to a combination of bad luck, injuries catching up with them, and a squad that's talents don't really work together in a logical formation on the pitch.

CC: Steve Bruce dismissed rumours linking him to a takeover in the summer as rubbish journalism, but for the fans is staying up enough for Mr Nice Guy - Kit Symons - to keep his job?

FBCC: I'm not sure it is. However even with the recent poor spell, Kit hasn't been bad as manager. If Fulham had performed as well under Magath as they have under Kit, they'd be sitting in tenth place with an even goal differential. While that's not great, it's hardly a disaster. If he keeps the team up, I expect them to focus in the off season to building the kind of squad that Kit wants to use. Unless you can hire a sure upgrade, I'm not sure it's worth it to make another change.

CC: What do you know of Fulham's billionaire owner Shahid Khan - I am not sure of his history with NFL side Jacksonville Jaguars - do you think he's a patient man?

FBCC: I think he's patient enough. His patience was probably what got the team relegated though. He should have been quicker to cut ties with both Martin Jol and Felix Magath. That being said, he's a businessman who knows how to make money. Fulham has a built in advantage over a lot of clubs just do to its location in London. But the only way to recognize that value is to get back to the Premier League. If Khan were to sell the team while in the Championship, he'd lose most of the money he paid for the club.

CC: Has Marcus Bettinelli looked more reassured since his FA Cup cross handling howler against Sunderland?

FBCC: Marcus has had a great year. He makes a mistake every once in a while, but everyone needs to remember that he's only 22. There's at least five years before he reaches his peak. He's going to make mistakes, but that's the only way he'll learn. It wouldn't shock me to see him get a few England caps as he continues his career.

CC: Bryan Ruiz seems out of favour if he almost went to Levante on loan in January, but are you pleased that he has stayed?

FBCC: Bryan Ruiz is a hard player to talk about. He might be the most talented player in the Championship. But he doesn't really want to play in this division. The problem is that Fulham have not won a match this year without his involvement. That's a double-edged sword though. Ruiz can really only play one position, behind the striker(s) in the centre of the pitch. This has led to the use of a 4-4-2 diamond formation with him at the tip. There are some issues with this formation. Namely, width only comes from the advancing fullbacks. This leaves the club wide open on the counter and has hurt their defense time and time again.

CC: Has Ross McCormack been a disappointment or should the team be based around him like it was at Leeds for him to do better?

FBCC: Ross McCormack has been very good this year. The main issue with him is 100 per cent related to Bryan Ruiz. McCormack is best used as a striker, but doesn't really play well as a lone striker. If you play a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-2-3-1, he needs to be in the withdrawn role. Unfortunately that's the place where you have to put Ruiz. This is why Kit has used the diamond. It allows him to get both players on the pitch. He's experimented at times with a 4-3-3, but McCormack's goal scoring is compromised when he's wide and Ruiz doesn't have the speed to play wide. Many supporters feel like Kit is wedded to the diamond. However, in my opinion, he just doesn't have another option to get both players on the pitch. Kit never used the diamond when he coached the youth squads, so I feel like he's only using it to fit the talent he was given. Which to be fair, he had no role in picking.

CC: How do you think Fulham will set up against AFCB at home?

FBCC: Playing on short rest could be hard for the club. The club are playing a Saturday, Tuesday, Friday series of matches. Lasse Vigen Christensen appeared to injure his hamstring against Derby, and I don't expect him to play either game this week. Hugo Rodallega is also out, but even healthy I don't expect him to start over Woodrow. Scott Parker was completely gassed in the Derby match, so I don't expect him to play Tuesday, leaving him available for Friday. I expect the diamond to prevail with McCormack and Woodrow up top and Ruiz just behind. The midfield three is anyone's guess. But the back four will probably be Jazz Richards, Nikolay Bordurov, Shaun Hutchinson, and Kostas Stafylidis.

However, if I were in charge, I'd probably set the team up in a 4-3-3. The same back four with Parker, Ryan Tunicliffe, and Seko Fofana in the midfield. With Alex Kakaniklic, McCormack, and Woodrow up top.

CC: This game was moved to a Friday night from Saturday for TV coverage but the atmosphere will be pretty special in the Cottage. Have Fulham performed better in evening games?

FBCC: I don't recall Fulham playing any better at night. If anything it's just a frustration for me. I live and work on the West Coast of the United States. That means night games are right in the middle of my work day. I can usually get away with listening to the game, but watching it is almost impossible.

CC: What is your score prediction for the match against AFC Bournemouth?

FBCC: A lot depends on what Kit decides to do in mid-week. A Tuesday match away to Watford is going to be tough. It's quite possible Symons decides to kind of punt on that one and try to earn points at home. If we play as well as we did against Derby, you should be worried. I'm an eternal optimist so I think Fulham have a good chance. I'd guess 2-1 Fulham.

CC: When this season is over what do you think needs to happen to get Fulham back up on its feet and challenging for promotion?

FBCC: Fulham need to settle on a manager early. Whether it's Kit or someone else, a decision needs to be made with in a week of the season ending. The off season needs to be spent identifying new players who will work in the system that the new manager wants to run. The team can't afford to have a third consecutive window that weakens the squad (and depending on how you feel about January of 2014, you might say that it could be four).

CC: Many thanks Andrew for getting through that marathon session of Rival Lines. It is always fascinating to know how fans can explain the kind of season that Fulham have had as they are probably the most unpredictable sides in the league - either magnificent or rather absent from what I am told. It also brings home to us that there is a lot of talent in the Fulham squad and AFCB will have to play particularly well to get anything in this game, but AFCB have to play to our strengths and see where that takes them.

You can follow Andrew on Twitter @arbeck and the website  Cottagers Confidential is where you'll find lots of Fulham stories including reaction on their big win against Derby County and their latest match report against Watford.

Cherry Chimes also answers some of Andrew's questions on his site in a return Three Question session.

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