Archive for November, 2009

Fulham 3-0 Blackburn

November 26, 2009

A well received victory by the Fulham faithful. It is interesting that we cannot play 90 mins of good football this season. For the first 44 minutes it was all Blackburn, out hustling Fulham to every ball, passing with determination and creating all of the chances. Not that they created many of quality. It could have been so different had Franco di Santo knocked the ball past Schwarzer in the 3rd minute, but a solid block and good covering from Aaron Hughes prevented any damage being done.

Fulham looked lost for the half, the midfield swamped, the fullbacks pinned back and the enigmatic Clint Dempsey pulling an invisible man. But with Blackburn asking all of the questions but failing to find any answers, an excellent and decisive Fulham counter attack, started and finished by Norwegians, put us ahead on the stroke of half time.  Brilliant one touch football reminiscent of the counter attack goal against stoke last year had proven successful. Fulham didnt deserve it, but they would certainly take it.

The second half was a completely different kettle of fish. Fulham passed the ball beautifully and with new found confidence, the excellent Baird patrolling the centre of the pitch, Duff starting to threaten. When Zamora was brought off due to injury and Dempsey moved up front, however, there was a question lingering over the effectiveness of the front line against a burly Blackburn defence. But the answer for the brawn of Blackburn was the brain of Fulham, invigorated by the grand wizard of footballing intellectualism himself Roy Hodgson at the half. Fulham looked lively up front and it wasn’t long before Fulham scored again. Duff cut inside onto his left, curling the ball into the area for an instinctive dempsey to pounce on and fire  into the net. Game over.

Nevland then missed when it was easier to score, after good interplay with Dempsey but the game was rounded out in style with 3 minutes remaining.  A good run by Simon Davies was rewarded with a slide rule pass by Paintsil. Davies then crossed low to Dempsey who turned his marked and fired home. If after 44 minutes you had told someone that Fulham would win 3-0 after dominating the second half you would have been laughed at, but thats football I suppose.

 

There were many interesting side stories to the match. Firstly, I am not sure where Dempsey plays best. As Rich has pointed out over at Craven Cottage Newsround, Dempsey scores his goals from close range. He is incredibly composed in front of goal for a midfielder, instead acting more like a poacher a la Nevland. His turn up front was excellent and Fulham looked dangerous. This is good news and gives us yet another option to mix things up and possibly more of a replacement for Bobby if he gets injured.

Secondly, Nevland and Dempsey have struck up quite the partnership. Against Liverpool (I Know it was only against 9 men) they combined well for  a late goal, and against Blackburn they seemed to form a fairly natural partnership. Maybe this is Nevlands best partner.

Thirdly, we are not a long ball team. It may be obvious, but someone needed to tell the team in the first half. Last season against Blackburn, Fulham played the second half ‘Blackburns way’ and ended up capitulating. Almost the opposite this time out, lets hope this is kept up for Bolton at the weekend.

Some ruminations as I watch France v Ireland extra time…

November 18, 2009

Long time, no post. Mainly due to a new job, and some general laziness.

Trapattoni has made Ireland into a very solid, organised side. To be honest, this is the only way a team like Ireland can get into the World Cup.  If the worst case scenario unfolded at Fulham and Roy Hodgson left at the end of the year (something that I think is extremely unlikely), we could do a lot worse than brining in Trapattoni (a bit speculative perhaps).  Not that that appointment would be welcomed by the many people who are regularly perturbed by Roy’s ‘defensive’ style of play.

Just a quick word on the various contract issues at Fulham. I am not overly worried at this stage. With the steps Fulham have made in becoming a more solidly run football club, it would amaze me if they let Roy slip through their fingers. As for Hangeland and Hughes, nothing at this point would suprise me in terms of players contracts. Both could sign or neither such is the nature of the modern game. Would I be upset? Only if Roy did not sign an extension.

Now to the game tonight. Unlucky Ireland. I really like Thierry Henry but that was inexcusable. The Ref has had an excellent game but there was little chance of him seeing Henry’s handball. Time for a rethink about video replays? The only good news is that Domenech is still in charge of France, meaning they will have an awful world cup, which will be nice to witness. I have to say that it was an even game and Ireland did not deserve to lose, certainly not like that anyway.

more soon

 

 

ESPN, the SPI and Football Rankings

November 11, 2009

Lets get one thing straight, I was born in the US. I have lived in the UK since the age of five but hold a US passport, so I am usually the first to defend US football fans who come under attack by ‘open minded’ football fans from across the globe. At Fulham we have a record of excellent US players in McBride, Bocanegra and of course Clint Dempsey. To top it all off the Americans who played at Fulham were all exemplary professionals who played an honest game and worked hard. So to reiterate, I have nothing against the US and football.

However, sometimes you have to laugh. I love ESPN.com. They give great insight into every sport they report on and the ‘soccernet’ section is particularly good. But then this flashed up. The SPI or Soccer Power Index.  Notionally I have nothing wrong with stats and football, statistics can often reveal interesting facts about the way football is played. But this table (or index, if you like) is a joke. Lets start with the most obvious flaws. The first three rankings, Brazil, Spain and England fair enough. But Argentina in 5th!!!! What! Portugal, France and Uruguay rounding out the top ten! Teams that either failed to qualify or have not yet qualified for the World Cup are above countries that have. The blurb calls them ‘forward looking’ rankings, ones that do not take into account the past.  Looking further in they use club data from european leagues to help define the positions for them:

we’ve taken results from every recent game in the four key European leagues (England, Germany, Italy and Spain), plus the Champions League, and assigned credit or blame to the individual players on the pitch based on the results of those matches. If Samuel Eto’o scores a goal for Inter Milan, Cameroon also will get a little bit of credit in its SPI. If Petr Cech has a clean sheet for Chelsea, that will improve the Czech Republic’s ratings a little bit. And so forth.

Hmm. Please feel free to contradict me, look around at their argument and see what you think, but to me this illustrates how far statistical analysis has yet to come in football. We know that it is not a statistic heavy sport like baseball or basketball which is why creating assumptions based on statistics needs to be done very carefully. Rich on CCN and Colin at Championship at Best have explored the relationship between football and statistics on a regular basis. The difference is that they are not trying to simplify everything into crass tables for popular consumption.

Anyway, sorry for the rant, this just got up my nose. Seems lazy to be honest, too superficial. Something to irritate me for the international break!

Wigan 1-1 Fulham and a few observations from MOTD

November 8, 2009

Context 1 : Liverpool at home, Roma away midweek (a gut-punch game) and now Wigan away. Tiredness was always going to be a factor, so any points gained would be a bonus. As Alan Hansen said on MOTD 2, how many points would have hoped for from the aforementioned fixtures. Two was his answer and you cannot really argue with that.

Context 2: Injuries. We were without AJ, Danny Murphy, Dio Kamara. Davies, Etuhu and Duff on the way back from injury.  To have this many first team players out should be a huge problem for a team like Fulham, but amazingly it has not been so far, so all credit to Roy and his system.

It was a game that focused on two goalkeepers. Schwarzer stole the headlines with save after save, throwing himself around the goal like a man possessed. He certainly looked closer to 27 than 37 today. Lets hope he continues his fine form and trains up young Stockdale as a good replacement once he leaves.

Neither of the goals were anything to write home about. Boyce took advantage of some slack marking to power home a shot from six yards and Demspey put away a spot kick after going down in the area. Other chances of note for Fulham were Nevlands early header which looped off of his head onto the post and deflected away, and an excellent double save from Kirkland , who denied first Dempsey then Greening. I have always rated Kirkland and the antics of his dad have mad me warm to him even more. If Wigan ever go down I would love to bring him to Fulham.

Some other thoughts having watched MOTD 2:

That Alessandro Diamanti looks like a quality player. He has one hell of a left foot and enjoys dropping deep to create chances for others, plus he is Italian and shares the same first name as me so always bonus points. I think West Ham are in trouble. Zola is a good manager, but I fear for their finances.  It will be interesting to see what happens in January.

It was good to see Bullard back for Hull. I for one am well past the stage of believing he was greedy to go to Hull. Good luck to him, and it would bring a smile to my face if he was influential in their fight against relegation (as long as we beat them next time we play). It is easy to see why Bullard never fit into Roy’s system, and Lee Dixon showed why today albeit in a positive way. Bullard was all over the pitch, drifting around, starting every move and generally creating a nuisance. Great if you want a box to box midfielder, but not if you are looking to keep a strong midfield 4 who hold position and stay solid he could be a nightmare.

The comments of the pundits made me laugh in reference to the Man Utd-Chelsea game. They kept talking about how both teams were out to win etc etc, but United were defensive, playing on the counter and Chelsea were stifled creatively by the deep defensive line that United played. I for one really hope that Arsenal win the league this year. I think it would be great reward for Wenger and a good advert for the game as a financially sound club with a realistic long-term plan, who stick by their manager succeed.

Two week break now, great news for the Fulham squad, but no so good for football fans. I cant wait till we kick off again in a few weeks time.

Robbed in Rome: Roma 2-1 Fulham

November 6, 2009

 

Nevland Red

Unfortunately this was the real story from Rome

 

 

A story of frustration. Firstly on my part, unable to watch the game because of job interviews and a family meal in London, I decide to record it, avoid the score and then watch when I got home in the evening. Get home at 11.00pm to find that it hadnt recorded. Great Start.

Decide to look up the score online, not too surprised upon seeing the scoreline, only to be put in a further bad mood after reading ‘9-man fulham’ as part of the headline. Further research online found even the usually balanced and calm Rich of craven cottage newsround incandescent with rage and Dan over at Hammy End in an equally despondent mood.

Watched the highlights, Gutted. I cannot believe that the team that finished last year with the best disciplinary record in the Premier League last season has had 3 red cards in two games against Roma. Not only that we had men sent off but the fact that it undoubtably changed the outcome of the games. We should be through now, instead we are 3rd.

All I can say is fantastic effort from the boys out in Rome. Everything they had in their own hands they dealt with brilliantly. Also, an understated fact, is how well Fulham did to only concede 2 goals to Roma with 10, then 9 men away from home. Roma got VERY lucky with Riise’s goal and Okaka’s was nearly saved by Schwarzer.

Whilst Fulham were extremely unlucky, any talk of conspiracy is foolish. I really do not wish to be associated with those moaning idiots up the road. This was just a poor refereeing performance topped up with bad luck, nothing more. I thought Roy’s post game comments were spot on, he was upset and he has every reason to be, but was still gracious in defeat:

“You cannot be happy in the face of injustice,” said Hodgson. “I accept the situation because the referee makes the decision, but I’m not happy.

“I think the two red cards were very harsh. I didn’t speak to the Referee. I only spoke to the Fourth Official.

“To play in the second half down to 10 men is a bitter pill to swallow.

Well done Roy. He also pointed out that we outplayed them 11 v 11, and I do not think anyone could argue with that.

Next Up, Wigan away. The good news is that Lawrenson  predicts that we will lose.  The bad news is that with the events of the last week, and in fact month, the Fulham players will be emotionally drained. The way we are playing we should beat Wigan, or at least give it a good go. Unfortunately, with our recent run of luck and our recent tough schedule we may struggle. It would be good to see the squad put in 100% on sunday ahead of a 2 week break, but after the recent run of games I think we will struggle. And you certainly cannot blame the players for that.

Why Christian Vieri and Bobby Zamora are more similar than you may think

November 4, 2009

Ok, the title may be a bit misleading. Whilst browsing the web I happened upon the Daily Mail video special about poor refereeing. One of which was South Koreas ‘magical run’ in the 2002 world cup. Their run to the semi-finals still irritates me as, being part Italian, I watched as they beat Italy. There were some dodgy decisions against the Italians (not as bad as against the Spanish in the next match though), and a golden goal won it for the South Koreans. Funnily enough Fulham’s very own Seol Ki-Hyeon scored in that match.  The Italians took the defeat with their usual grace. Funnily enough the Korea coach at the time was none other than Gus Hiddink, that lovely guy who helped our neighbours last season. Strangely, during the media love in, nobody mentioned previous luck Hiddink had enjoyed.

The other Fulham Link which I will pull out of this is Christian Vieri’s miss in the game. Have a look at 5.11:

Does this remind you of anything? I think my point is, other than randomly enjoying highlights from previous world cups, that even world class players miss absolute sitters. I know that it has been a few weeks since the Bobby miss, but I happened upon the clip and  thought I would put in my 10 pence.  Random? Yes. Interesting? Maybe.

Black20.com

November 3, 2009

Check out these guys,  I have been visiting their site for over a year and it is very good. If you have time, watch the webseries net_work, my personal favourite.

No Logo

November 2, 2009

At the moment I am reading No Logo by Naomi Klein.  It is based around the idea of ‘the rise of the brand’ in the late eighties and into the nineties.  Although it is now ten years old it is still both an interesting and relevant read.

The reason I mention this is because it got me thinking about the relationship between football, sponsorship and branding.  In recent weeks the spectre of stadium sponsorship has reared its ugly head at both Fulham and Newcastle, although to a more serious extent at the latter.  In the case of Fulham I doubt that there is really anything to worry about. The Fenway Sports Group who have become consultants to Fulham and mooted the idea of a name change have a tradition of focusing on the history of clubs when marketing them. I think a rename of Craven Cottage is about as likely as a rename of Fenway Park. In the case of Newcastle, Ashley wants cash and it is likely that a rename is on the cards as long as he cannot sell the club.

If we look at stadium sponsorship pragmatically, then it is an excellent idea. In exchange for something of relatively little economic value ( a name) you receive lots of money. It is of course not that simple. In the UK and to some extent across Europe stadium names are sacred ground. In the UK the few sponsored stadiums are generally new builds (see The Reebok and KC stadium).  Nostalgia surrounding names is still strong and viewed as central to the identity of many clubs.

The question is if this will change. I believe that it is only a matter of time before football goes the way of US sports. Ever since the creation of the brand that is the Premier League, football has been steadily progressing to total branding. The big clubs have led the way (notice how Manchester United are not an FC any more) and others are sure to follow. Football teams do have an innate advantage in the branding process in that they posses badges. These logos give the club an immediate graphic identity and a base for the brand to be built. Football is also surrounded by companies which really spearheaded the rise of the brand such as Nike. The logical next step for advertising and branding in football is stadium sponsorship. With many clubs looking to move into new stadiums over the next few years stadium sponsorship is inevitable.

What does this mean for the game? Without wanting to sound like a paranoid conspiracy theorist, the inevitable end is the end of real competition. We have seen a shift in power upward to the ‘big 4’ in the premier league and this will continue.  A European ‘super league’ would be the ultimate form of branded corporate football, a place where the most powerful teams engage in a perpetual struggle similar to that of the warring nations Oceana, Eurasia and Eastasia in 1984.

I know that this seems like another moan from a supporter of a club outside the top four but I do think there are some important points that need to be addressed. The lack of competition in the Premier League and others across Europe is a real worry.  Whilst at the moment the ascension of Man City and other clubs sustained by heavy investment gives the illusion of competition, these clubs are based on a bubble which could burst at any time.  The FA, UEFA and FIFA really need to look into imposing limits on squad size and wages before the brands at the top become too powerful.

Championship on the BBC

November 1, 2009

It is great to see championship football on the BBC. Tonight it is Cardiff City v Nottingham Forest.  So far an absorbing game, and a great advert for english football.

Last night after the obligatory match of the day viewing, I tuned in to the new BBC creation The Football League Show. I was impressed and I think it is good to get more exposure for the lower divisions, showing that football is not just about the Drogbas, the Manchester Uniteds and the Champions League.

Long may this new trend continue.

Fulham 3-1 Liverpool

November 1, 2009

On an autumn afternoon on the banks of the Thames, Fulham and Liverpool played out an entertaining game. Via a dodgy internet stream I watched as Liverpool took the game to Fulham in the first half. Roy Hodgson’s men were resolute in defence, but in all honesty Liverpool rarely troubled Mark Schwarzer in the Fulham goal. Yossi Benayoun rattled the crossbar but that was about the most dangerous of the Liverpool advances. Liverpool may have enjoyed vastly superior possession stats (something like 75%-25%) but they were unable to turn this into anything productive.

Then, against the run of play, Fulham scored. The ball broke to Bobby Zamora who laid it on to Duff on the left-wing. Duff in turn smashed a low hard cross back across the face of goal for   Zamora, meandering past a sleeping Emiliano Insua, to sidefoot home. Memories of a miss in a similar position against Man City the weekend before were erased.

If  supporters thought that the goal was going to turn the course of the match, they were mistaken. Liverpool continued to press, but again lacked any real penetration. Then after a nothing header from Voronin an unlucky bounce off Aaron Hughes chest fell to the mercurial Fernando Torres to lash home on the volley. I have to admit thinking that the game was up and a thrashing was on the cards.

What I had not prepared for was Roy Hodgsons half time team talk. I had been frustrated by Fulham’s ‘route one’ approach to the first half rather than passing the ball through the midfield. This had consistently given the ball back to Liverpool and allowed them to launch attack after attack. However, as the second half started Fulham seemed to have a bit more about them. The midfield was passing the ball well, and there seemed to be more space.  For me Fulham are a passing team. When they try to lump the ball forward they look awful (see the home game against blackburn last year).

Any penetration that Liverpool had enjoyed was stifled as Torres was brought off on 60 mins. I for one, feel for Benitez. To me, Torres looked injured and was struggling. With one eye on europe, Benitez had to haul him off. This substitution really handed the initiative to Fulham who had looked much better since the half.

As Dirk Kuyt kept a ball in play, Konchesky ghosted in, stole the ball and floated a cross to the back post. A composed Gera headed the ball to Fulham super-sub Erik Nevland who flicked the ball into the net, 2-1.  Dreamland. Could Fulham pull this off? Echoes of Manchester United last year.

With Fulham ahead and looking comfortable, two red cards in quick succession ended any hope of a Liverpool comeback. Philip Degen’s lunge at Dempsey was an unfortunate red, but as Carragher hauled down a Bobby Zamora clean through on goal there could only be one outcome.  Against 9 men, Fulham had plenty of space and to the sound of the crowd cheering every pass, Nevland and Dempsey combined with a slick  one two and Fulham were 3-1 up.

An excellent second half performance from Fulham who had injury problems of their own. The standout performer was Bobby Zamora who gave the Liverpool backline a headache all match. Greening had a solid game in the middle and Gera came on an did well.

 

Next up, Roma in midweek. After this result, and with the Roman outfit struggling for form on the pitch and financially off the pitch, anything could happen. What a good time to be a Fulham fan!