It may have been expected, but it doesn’t make it much easier, here’s five thoughts of Cam Ramsey following Saturday’s defeat at the Etihad.
What a sobering way to be lobbed back into domestic duties after the international break. Saturday’s trip to the Etihad was a treacherous, gut-wrenching affair before kick-off with many a Fulham fan, even the optimistic few, touting a relentless riot in Manchester City’s favour, but Slav’s boys miraculously escaped with a somewhat merciful 3-0 defeat.
Now, a loss isn’t a positive by any means, although we only made a slight splash in comparison to those who have perished before us after being prodded off the plank by the reigning Premier League champions.
1) Out of Our Depth?
It’s no secret that we’re here to exhibit our dominance and confidence on the ball and in recent meetings this season, win or lose, we’ve endeavoured to dictate in order to frustrate and hurry our opponents into exposing their vulnerabilities. But against City, of course, a patient element of sensibility has to be observed, as Pep’s indomitable contingent don’t seem to have tender spots, and if they do, they’re shielded by layers upon layers of chain mail and Gorilla Glue.
Fulham had their chances to respond to City, although as the hosts had a staggering 28 attempts on our target throughout the confrontation, we can count ourselves truly lucky that it wasn’t a rampant whitewash, and in terms of possession – as expected – City had more than the lion’s share, a freedom which allowed them to siege our defence at will, after swiftly rendering our midfield surplus.
Without forgetting that City are unquestionably one of Europe’s most capable outfits, however, grabbing even a mild shot on target is an achievement for any newly promoted contender, and though that appears to be an exceedingly shallow appraisal, that’s often all that you can hope for against the game’s commanding heavyweights in their own back yard.
2) High Line Condemned Us to Defeat
Other than David Silva’s intricate stab in the 6-yard box, the goals Fulham conceded were fashioned by direct, incisive through-balls. Establishing base camp further up the park condenses the areas in which an opposition can operate, but with the fluidity and potency in City’s attacking spearhead, we were always dancing with the devil.
Jean-Micheal Seri’s uncharacteristic mistake opened the door for Leroy Sane to pounce, and as we were trying to construct at the time, our defence was clinically pulled apart and we simply couldn’t scramble back frantically enough to stunt Fernandinho’s impending dart towards our penalty area. Remember Brighton & Hove Albion’s first at the Amex?
City, as it’s widely known, treat the ball with the respect it duly deserves on the turf, but when there’s even a mere sniff of a potential long ball to unleash Sane and company’s searing pace in the final third, they’re not shy to switch up their approach. More often than not, they dissected our rearguard with heat-seeking missiles which fell deftly at the destination’s primed feet behind enemy lines.
3) Sess’ Still Not a Left-Back
Now, I’m not saying that Ryan Sessegnon can’t deputise at left-back whatsoever, because he’s actually a fairly tidy full-back, but against the strength and vibrancy Sane and Raheem Sterling brought to the table on Saturday, it was crystal clear to see that the fledgling starlet was being systematically targeted once City marched forward offensively.
As a winger in advanced positions, Sess’ asked questions of City’s full-backs and even sat Kyle Walker on his backside with a feint moment of deception. During the build up to Andre Schurrle’s rasping effort that was expertly brushed over the crossbar by Ederson, the developing teenager supplied Luciano Vietto from the left channel with a productive pass which handed the Argentine the time and space to locate Schurrle on the parameter of the 18-yard box.
Sess’ aptitude in the offensive quadrant of the pitch exposed his naivety when tracking back, as on a number of differing occasions the ‘Young Lion’ ambled in retreat, rather than inexhaustibly exerting every fibre and sinew he had to strain.
But in absolute fairness, even the hardiest of defenders often haplessly flounders in the wake of Sterling’s studs, so if a trip to the Etihad was going to pose as an abrupt eye opener for the beloved academy product, it’s good that it’s come in his impressionable formative years, as he’ll undoubtedly learn from his experience against the division’s best weaponry.
4) Flashes of Betts’ Best
Marcus Bettinelli’s may have failed to make his bow for his nation, however being regarded as a member of the England squad certainly would have put the wind in his sail, and rightly so.
Shipping three goals is a bitter pill, but it shouldn’t dent the 26-year-old’s confidence and stature too dramatically. Competing at the top level, especially for a goalkeeper, is going to be a gruelling mental and physical drain, because there’s no margin for error. Not an inch, not a whiff.
Following Sane’s opener, Sterling could have registered a strike earlier in the fixture after skipping through Alfie Mawson, and with the goalmouth at his mercy, the England attacker unleashed a vicious attempt towards the net, but an onrushing Betts, spread in sheer desperation, valiantly thwarted the danger and diverted the ball off the crossbar.
Moments later at the front post, the newly appointed Three Lions representative had to have his angles covered perfectly, and once Bernardo Silva drilled the ball goal bound, Bettinelli had already snuffed out the fizzing hazard with an improvised block with his right boot. Marcus can come out of Saturday’s game with plenty of credit.
5) Transitional Period Continues
‘Slav bingo’ occurred once again with a collection of questionable selections in his matchday XI, but hey, who are we to judge his expertise? Fulham acquired enough players to field a whole new squad during the summer and we’d be kidding ourselves if we thought that the Serb knew exactly who he’d deploy on a weekly basis from the get-go.
Denis Odoi was a rock for us at centre-half last term in the Championship, but in the top-flight? I’m still not entirely convinced. The utility man didn’t have a horrendous 90 minutes by any means against City, however we need raw physicality in the heart of our defence, and the Belgian, despite his determination, isn’t brawny enough to prop up the spine of the fold.
Injuries and fatigue will intermittently limit a squad throughout the campaign and Tom Cairney’s absence amongst others was sorely noticeable in the engine room. Stand-in skipper Stefan Johansen, the ‘shithouse’ extraordinaire, is a worthy addition from the dugout but is not a starter at this level – Bernardo Silva ran him ragged and the Norway captain simply couldn’t get a telling foothold in the game.
There’s genuine competition for places in all departments and that will significantly aid us as the weeks and months trundle onward. But as many view Timothy Fosu-Mensah as a stronger option than Cyrus Christie, Joe Bryan as a sturdier left-back opposed to Sess’ and Maxime Le Marchand and Mawson as our ideal centre-half pairing amongst other various permutations, Slav is ultimately a long way from pinpointing a formidably cohesive blueprint to trust in future domestic meetings.