Although Kit Symons’ time in charge was hit-and-miss, one of the positives that could be taken from the Welshman’s time at the helm was the emergence of Lasse Vigen Christensen.
Despite making his debut in January 2014, it was in the Championship that Christensen made his first league appearance, quickly establishing himself with his lung-busting runs into the box, intelligent passing and tenacity in the tackle. At a time when the team was struggling to adapt to unfamiliar territory and shipping goals at an alarming rate, the then 20-year-old was a beacon of hope for the club and saw demotion to English football’s second tier as a blessing in disguise.
With any young player, it is important not to expect too much too soon. However, after a series of eye-catching displays and some excellent finishes against Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday, it was expected that the Dane would start to attract admiring glances from the top-flight. He was bossing games with a swagger and intelligence that belied his age. Yet despite all the promising performances at the beginning of that campaign, things have not been plain-sailing since then. Indeed, his goal against the Owls was his last in a league fixture at Craven Cottage.
There is no doubt that persistent hamstring problems have blighted his progress. Having picked up his first injury just before the New Year of 2015, he started seven league games upon his return before a recurrence of the problem put him out for the rest of the season. A similar injury sustained against QPR during the 3-1 win in February kept him out of action until the beginning of April and he failed to properly regain his place in the team following his recovery.
“Simply put, Christensen is ill-suited to playing on the wing. The full-backs we have deployed in recent years all like to bomb on – leaving LVC to do too much defensive work.”
There are however other issues at play here. Initially under Symons, Fulham adopted a formation that did not change too much. Whether it was a standard 4-4-2 or a diamond, Christensen’s role in the team was to carry the ball forward and provide ammunition for the strikers (and attacking midfielder when applicable) while also making late runs into the box. He did not have to worry about defensive duties in the diamond as Parker had that role covered and he was not stationed out on the wings in the early months of his senior career with the Whites. Between September 2014 and February 2015 his place in the side was pretty much nailed down until his second hamstring problem ruled him out for the rest of the season.
Despite starting last season in a roughly similar system, Ryan Tunnicliffe had become Jokanovic’s favoured choice in the centre of the park alongside new signing Jamie O’Hara. A space then opened up on the right wing following Tom Cairney’s dismissal against Wolves in late September, allowing Christensen to step into the breach. While he provides energy in any position, LVC doesn’t have the pace or trickery to trouble too many left-backs.
After adopting this role for a few matches, he then reverted to the left flank for one match, the 4-2 win over Reading, before being placed on the bench for the next two fixtures. Symons’ final match in charge saw him switch to a rather unusual 4-3-2-1 formation, with Christensen on the left of the three. This defensive system did little to arrest the team’s slump, as Gary Rowett’s men ran out 5-2 winners.
Simply put, Christensen is ill-suited to playing on the wing. The full-backs we have deployed in recent years all like to bomb on – leaving LVC to do too much defensive work. His talents are best served in the centre, dictating play and providing decent service to those further up the pitch.
Changing a player’s position so regularly is bound to upset their rhythm and confidence. At various points during last season, Christensen was positioned on either wing and down the middle and, in a very unusual move, deployed at left-back in the win at Loftus Road earlier this year. It was relatively rare to find him operating in a central role, which is surely the most sensible way to use him.
Christensen isn’t defensively-minded enough to fit the role that Scott Parker and Kevin McDonald have performed ably. Having settled on a 4-2-3-1 formation this season, it appears that Jokanovic prefers Cairney’s composure and goal threat in the central attacking midfield berth, having initially plumped for Aluko in that role, with Stefan Johansen and even Jozabed able to deputise in that position. Unless there is a succession of injuries, Christensen looks set to be frozen out for the time being.
Like Cauley Woodrow, he is a player who is still in the early stages of his career, but is at an age where he should be expecting regular first-team football somewhere. In order to receive a senior international call-up, Christensen will have to either push for a loan move or look to pastures new. Given that the FA Cup is fast approaching, it might be worth throwing Christensen back in the side as we begin to fight on two fronts, but it seems that at 22 he needs to move away to start playing regularly once more.