The games are coming thick and fast in December and next stop is Craven Cottage for Fulham vs Spurs in the Premier League.
The Cottagers have a new coach in Rene Meulensteen who takes his first game in charge after the sacking of Martin Jol. How he will set his side up is not entirely sure. After working alongside Jol for a few weeks, Meulensteen’s strategy may be one of slightly adapting the team. It may however, be one of complete change.
If we run the rule over the Cottagers so far this season, there are several ways to break them down. This will help in planning the Tottenham tactics for Fulham vs Spurs tonight.
Fulham set up and style
So far this season, Fulham have more often than not lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation. This sees either Dimitar Berbatov or Darren Bent up top, with the Bulgarian or Bryan Ruiz playing off the front man. Behind them, Steve Sidwell and Scott Parker form a decent block for the back four.
The problem for Fulham this season has been injuries. Their most important defender, Brede Hangeland, has been out and the Cottagers have lost all five Premier League matches that he has missed. The Norwegian is strong in the air and reads the game well, whilst also being a factor at set pieces in both halves. With him in the team the back four is well marshalled, without him, they can easily become separated and disjointed.
Sascha Riether has also missed the last four Premier League matches and this hasn’t aided the back four either. It’s also clear that Fulham miss his attacking drive going forward.
On the other side the talismanic John Arne Riise, who had been a fixture at left back, has been axed this season. Martin Jol said recently he wasn’t “playing with enough energy.” Something that the Norwegian had built a reputation for; as well as his hammered free kicks. Whether Meulensteen offers him a way back to the first team, we will have to wait and see. The consequences of this has seen the Cottagers becoming extremely vulnerable to conceding chances through the full back zones, something we’ll look at in a minute.
Going forward, they like to attack down the right. Rather than play as orthodox wingers, the wide players move inside, looking to create chances through the inside channels. Another problem for Fulham this season has been missing the influential Damien Duff in this position, something that is hurting their chance creation.
Amongst all of these losses, the effect of the departure of Mark Schwarzer in goal has also been big.
Although getting on in years, the Australian was a very vocal keeper who was able to guide the back four in front of him. His replacement, Martin Stekelenburg, has also missed a chunk of the season through injury, which hasn’t helped seeing he is new in town. As a result, he doesn’t seem to have built up a similar understanding with the troops in front of him.
The play of Dimitar Berbatov
Berba is Fulham’s key man. The Bulgarian is often brilliant, with a magnificent first touch, divine skills and a cool finish in front of goal. He can also often be languid and disappear in matches, but we can be sure that he’ll be up for this one.
Last season, Berbatov took a few games to bed in, but ended up with 15 goals in the Premier League, as Fulham ran their attack through him.
Berbatov was the focal point, very much involved with short, neat passing and layoffs in the opponents half. Fulham did look to put some longer balls up to him towards the box, whilst also crossing to take advantage of his heading and his excellent volleying skills, but the Bulgarian was the hub of the attack.
Take his performance against Swansea, where he received a couple of long balls up to him in the penalty area and several crosses from the right. Elsewhere, the passing to him is short and neat, especially in central areas, which allows him to create chances inside the penalty area and take 5 shots at goal.
This season, Berbatov hasn’t received the same service, as he often has to play second fiddle to Darren Bent. He is now the focus for a lot more long balls hit forward, but these are not towards the penalty area, but in deeper zones, as he has become more of a set-up man.
Compare his performance last season at home to Swansea with this term. Berba was the focus of a lot more long balls forward, but these are now in the midfield zone. Also, the service he was getting from wide and also the short neat passes in the centre of the park are now a less frequent. This effects how much of a menace he can be with his passing and layoffs in the penalty area, whilst he attempted just a single shot at goal.
Dimitar Berbatov playing off a target striker in Darren Bent is effecting his influence this term and it’ll be interesting to see if Rene Meulensteen moves him back up front.
This could see the Tottenham tactics for Fulham vs Spurs alter depending on where he is located. If he is up top trying to drag our centre backs around then he will be more difficult to mark. If he continues behind Darren Bent, this could make him an easier player to nullify with the powerhouses of Sandro and Moussa Dembele in this zone.
How Fulham create chances
If Fulham are without Damien Duff, then they are very narrow. This means that the full backs are tasked with getting forward, but the Cottagers more often than not create through the inside channels.
What’s more, with them opting to move the ball more frequently forward down the right side of the pitch, the chances come from here.
Fulham have struggled to score, but in their last two home Premier League matches, we can see how the chances come through the central channels and from the right.
The Tottenham tactics for Fulham vs Spurs here would see us do well to focus on getting in to the central passing lanes to cut off the inside supply. Invariably this comes from Dimitar Berbatov.
Down the right, Sascha Riether could well be back for the Cottagers tonight, as could Damien Duff who featured after returning against West Ham. Both these players are key to sparking anything Fulham create from this flank and will be up against our weaker left side.
Where Fulham concede chances
Fulham have been very easy to expose through their left back zone this season.
The reason has been quite simple. Kieran Richardson is located there and while he provides the energy that Marin Jol desired, he is more of a midfielder than a full back. As a result, he can get forward trying to help the attack, but teams have been raiding through his left back zone.
In their last Premier League match, West Ham just obliterated them through here.
In their previous game at home, Swansea also went after the left side of the Fulham back four.
The Swans are more of a passing and through ball team than the crossing focussed attack of the hammers. So they went through the channel between the left back and his centre back.
They also completed a couple of crosses from the Richardson’s left back zone. One of which resulted in an own goal by Aaron Hughes.
The Tottenham tactics for Fulham vs Spurs would see us do well to focus our attack through this left back zone. This would see the choice of our wide player being key, with the width and pass-first mentality of Aaron Lennon potentially a better choice than the shot happy Andros Townsend.
Press for success
Fulham are usually strong at home, but this season due to new personnel and injuries, they have often struggled on their patch, especially when teams press them.
Cardiff, Arsenal, Man Utd and Swansea have all won at Craven Cottage, as Fulham have uncharacteristically lost four of six home matches in the Premier League.
The key has been pressure from the opposition, especially in their weak left back zone as Swansea showed.
The Tottenham tactics usually see us bring a decent amount of pressure from the front. For Fulham vs Spurs this time, we may see some heavy pressing similar to the levels that we saw at Goodison Park, where went sharply after Everton from the off.
Fulham vs Spurs outlook
After a good performance against Man Utd, this provides a good platform for AVB and the lads to build some momentum.
However, going to Craven Cottage won’t be easy with Rene Meulensteen taking charge of his first game and a reaction expected from his players. Andre Villas-Boas is wary of this: “Fulham’s system could be a surprise. We can’t predict what is going through Rene’s mind so we have to be careful.”
We will do well to sure up the centre. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the powerful midfield trio of Sandro, Dembele and Paulinho once more to overrun the midfield. Capoue for Sandro may be the only change if the Brazilian is unable to play two matches in quick succession with Sunderland upcoming on Saturday.
The choice of wide player on the right to attack Richardson’s left back zone will be key here.
Fulham vs Spurs prediction: Fulham 1 Spurs 2.