What a difference a week makes! Only one win in five Premier League matches going in to last week and six points from two encounters this. Could we possible make it three out of three this weekend with a trip to Craven Cottage for Fulham vs Spurs.
If we’re to do so, it won’t be easy against a Fulham side that are tough at home and are managed by former Spurs favourite Martin Jol. The Dutchman endeared himself to many at White Hart Lane during his time in charge, taking Tottenham to the doorstep of the Champions League, only to be denied by a dubious lasagne.
Jol is fashioning a Fulham side that are becoming increasingly tougher to beat under his guidance. So what should we expect at the Cottage and what should be the Tottenham tactics for Fulham vs Spurs?
Last season you knew exactly what you were going to get at Fulham with Martin Jol lining his charges up in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
They would attack the majority of the time down the right through Damien Duff, whilst Clint Dempsey would make his way in to the box from the left to join Pavel Pogrebnyak or Bobby Zamora. When the ball went left, Dempsey’s movement would also allow John Arne Riise to gallop in to space down that flank and deliver crosses from this side.
This season, the departure of Dempsey means that Fulham are a much more balanced side. Alex Kacaniklic, Kieran Richardson and Hugo Rodallega have all had spells on the left since the American moved to us and all play much wider than Dempsey did.
Fulham are also playing much more of a counter attacking style, relying on intercepting the ball and breaking forward. The Cottagers lead the Premier League in interceptions per match this term with 19.7 per game. We can see from their last home match (where they played with eleven men) against Everton, how they intercepted the ball in their own half.
Going forward, the key men this season have been Bryan Ruiz and Dimitar Berbatov. The Costa Rican was playing a staring role since moving in to the role playing off of the Bulgarian, but will miss the match through injury. Fulham set up to play very much to Berbatov’s strengths, which we’ll look at next.
Stopping Dimitar Berbatov
We know plenty about Berba after his time at White Hart Lane. The Bulgarian was often brilliant, with a magnificent first touch, divine skills and a devastating finish in front of goal. He was also often languid and could disappear in matches, but we can be sure that he’ll be up for this one.
As at the Lane and Old Trafford, the key to Berbatov’s game is his movement. He drops off in to both left and right channels to link up the play, which makes him harder to mark, as defenders have to decide whether to go with him. Then he can move up towards the box, looking to receive passes played through the defence to him rather than get on the end of crosses.
If we take a look at his last two home matches on Stats Zone, where Fulham have had eleven on the field, we can see his range of movement and how he looks for the through ball.
Against Aston Villa and Everton we can see three things going on. Firstly, how he is the focus for balls played forward from the back. Berbatov’s ability to pluck the ball out the air and his strength to hold it up are very under-rated.
Secondly, we can see how he likes to receive possession in wide areas just over halfway and midway inside the opposition half as he links the play.
Finally we can see how he prefers to take balls played through to him in or towards the edge of the box, rather than get on the end of crosses.
This season, Fulham are very much set up to create for Dimitar Berbatov, which is what we’ll look at next.
Fulham create chances through the centre
As such with Berbatov’s movement and preference for balls played through to him, Fulham create chances this way. They attempt the second least amount of crosses in the Premier League, whilst are the third highest at fashioning opportunities through the centre.
Only West Brom attempt fewer balls in to the box than Fulham and only QPR and Chelsea create a higher percentage of their chances through the centre than the Cottagers.
If we take a look at Fulham’s last home match, we can see how they create the majority of their chances with balls played diagonally through the Mackems’ defence. Interestingly, Mladen Petric scored from a cutback.
In their previous home match with Everton, they created a number of chances from balls laid back once inside the area in central zones. Their goals came direct from a Bryan Ruiz free kick after a foul in a central area and from a ball squared to Steve Sidwell from the right of the penalty area.
The Tottenham tactics here should be to deny Fulham the opportunity to thread it through the middle by crowding this zone with Sandro and the two centre backs. Our full backs should also be looking to play narrow to force Fulham outside to the flanks where they do not want to be.
Teams that have had success at Craven Cottage press
Not many teams leave Craven Cottage with much, but Man City won there and Everton put on a great display, only to succumb to a last minute equaliser.
What both the Toffees and the Blues did was press and as a result they controlled the possession in the match and massively out shot their hosts.
Everton Squeezed up and had 60% of the play and 27 shots at the target compared to Fulham’s 9 efforts. City pressed and had 71% of the possession and fired 23 efforts at the Fulham goal to just 7 in reply.
Both City and Everton were looking to play high up the field to condense the area in which Ruiz and Berbatov could operate in, with neither having the pace to get in behind.
The Tottenham tactics of employing a high line should be in force here to do the same.
Fulham concede from wide
Fulham look to score by going through the middle, but concede the majority of chances against them through the left and right zones. With John Arne Riise bombing forward, the majority of chances come from getting in behind his left back position, but Sascha Riether on the right is also not immune.
The Cottagers have conceded the third most chances in the Premier League from both the left and right zones – the areas patrolled by the full backs – whilst being much stronger in the centre. Usually Brede Hangeland is here, but he will be suspended which should mean that Fulham are also weakened in this area.
Everton created a number of chances down the Fulham left from the area in behind John Arne Riise. Man City are a team that look to score from through balls and created a host of chances from passes played toward the right hand corner of the penalty area, as well as squared from the right and left.
With Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale playing as wide forwards this season, the Tottenham tactics here should be to move the ball to them as often as possible. Lennon especially should be looking to use his pace to get in to the area vacated by John Arne Riise when he moves forward.
Fulham vs Spurs outlook
This will be a tough game for Spurs, but if there were ever a good time to go to Craven Cottage, then now would look to be it. Fulham will be without two of their most influential players in Bryan Ruiz and Brede Hangeland and we should be looking to take advantage.
The only downside for us could be fatigue with three games in a week, as Andre Villas-Boas talked about in his press conference on Fulham.
“We hope to be as competitive as we have been, knowing we have to recover physically for the game. The players have been excellent in the way they’ve approached every game, they are all at 100 per cent, no-one takes their foot off the gas and I think if they do that again, we have a big chance, no doubt.”
Dimitar Berbatov will be the danger man, but whether Fulham use him up top or playing off of another striker like Mladen Petric will be interesting. Away to Stoke, Berba played off of Petric as Fulham went with a more aggressive line-up. For their trip to the Bridge in midweek, the Bulgarian was in advance of a midfielder in Giorgios Karagounis.
Whatever Fulham’s formation, Spurs should be looking to press and close up the gaps between the lines to condense the area Dimitar Berbatov can operate in. He is not a threat to race in behind and so we should play him that way.
Going forward, we should also be looking to get in behind the fullbacks with Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon operating high up the pitch and wide to stretch their defence. The full back areas are where Fulham concede chances and our two flying wingers are perfectly equipped to exploit this.
I think Spurs have a decent chance here to make it three wins in a row this week.