What can we conclude following Fulham’s 1-1 draw against an organised Watford side? Cam Ramsey gives his five thoughts on Saturday’s performance.
Were Fulham fortunate to earn a draw against Watford or were the Whites ultimately unlucky not to walk away with a victory? It was certainly a strange, turbulent affair down the by river on Saturday afternoon with a whole host of compelling talking points to immerse ourselves in now that the dust, or indeed drizzle, has finally settled.
Aside from some oddly contentious officiating from Martin Atkinson, both squads had their opportunities to put the game to bed but would undoubtedly feel relieved to have shared the spoils. So without further delay, here’s five notable thoughts from the south-west Londoners’ captivating clash against Javi Gracia’s industrious Hornets.
Early Teething Problems
It seems to be a resounding problem for Fulham, but after conceding early against Manchester City in their previous Premier League encounter, you’d have hoped that Slavisa Jokanovic’s men would switch themselves on from the very first kick against Watford. Although as Watford came charging out of the traps, the Cottagers were caught with their trousers down once again.
Unable to smother possession on the parameter of the penalty area, Fulham left the door on the latch for Will Hughes to jab the ball into Andre Gray’s path, and with the goal at his mercy, the imposing attacker picked his spot and dispatched a pinpoint strike past a vulnerable Marcus Bettinelli.
Betts was left with very little time to react to the melee on the edge of the 18-yard box and couldn’t spread himself enough to unnerve Gray. But if the defensive line were alive to the danger and poised to stunt Watford’s target men, the 26-year-old stopper wouldn’t have had to watch the former Burnley attacker wheel away in celebration as the ball nestled itself in his net. This is not a welcome trend and we have to stamp it out of our game swiftly and effectively if we’re going to prosper in future weeks.
Centre-Half Conundrum Continues
Though Alfie Mawson and Calum Chambers forged a formidable partnership for England’s U21 set-up, the familiar pairing appeared flustered in the heart of Fulham’s back four and couldn’t withstand Troy Deeney’s brutish power and Gray’s darting runs into alarming areas.
Hindered by a dismissive midfield which often neglected its defensive responsibilities, Slav was lead to tinker with the centre-half department and replaced Mawson, who was cautioned in the first 45, with Denis Odoi at half-time.
Though Odoi hasn’t necessarily been our most reliable defender of late, the slight Belgian does offer the fold a beneficial range of auxiliary qualities, and as soon as he took to the turf, the fabric of the tie altered in Fulham’s favour.
Able to slalom through trouble, the adaptable 30-year-old supported the midfield on the break and sprayed constructive passes across the park to aid his teammates when countering. We’re yet to have identified our strongest defensive corps, but if Odoi continues to perform to the highest degree when required, the weekly selection dilemma will only thicken for Jokanovic.
Seri’s Exploits Were Key
Lost in the first-half, the usually dependable Kevin McDonald was hauled off by Slav at the interval and replaced by Floyd Ayite, meaning that Jean-Micheal Seri would have to resolutely shepherd the midfield and deputise as the anchorman in KMac’s premature absence.
A productive presence in the engine room, Seri formed an almost impenetrable blanket across the rearguard and retained possession faultlessly and efficiently. McDonald couldn’t find his range in the first-half and was often hassled into dispatching wasteful long balls with no intended destination or purpose, although Seri was typically diligent with the ball under his mesmerising spell.
Once André-Frank Zambo Anguissa was introduced in the 64th minute, the midfield had an extra conservative element and Fulham dictated proceedings in the centre of the pitch, and once the pace and intensity fizzled from the game, Anguissa and Seri could decisively orchestrate behind the offensive unit.
Initiating counter attacks from deep, Seri’s primary objective is to provide the hit-men with ammunition, whilst conducting himself as a secure calming influence. Innately one step ahead of virtually every opponent he’s faced, watching the cultured Ivorian expertly distribute the ball on a weekly basis is truly a privilege, and his escapades against Watford showcased the fundamental fact that he genuinely is a complete box-to-box protagonist.
Mitro the Menace
Five goals for the season and Saturday’s saviour. Aleksandar Mitrovic may not be graced with blistering pace, but what the dogged Serb does have in his locker is a tenacious appetite for reward in front of the target. In the second-half against the Hornets, we saw that he’s a particularly ruthless weapon when granted an opportunity to beat his marker and the ‘keeper.
A brawny gym fanatic, Mitrovic makes a nuisance of himself whenever he features for club and country, and as Luciano Vietto unleashed a tantalising ball into the 23-year-old’s vicinity, there was only ever going to be one outcome.
Pressed in the 6-yard box, Mitrovic pounced to divert Vietto’s skimmed cross into the back of the net to register the game’s equaliser, an opportunistic nudge at the front post that epitomised his steely prowess in the box. Aerially imperious, the staunch striker also wreaked havoc at set-pieces and had a looping header brushed onto the crossbar by Foster, a towering nod that was destined for the net.
Buffeting his opponents off the ball, once Mitrovic carves an opening he instantaneously tests the ‘keeper’s reserve, and Ben Foster remarkably denied the forward with an agile flick of the fingertips after the rejuvenated ex-Newcastle United marksman masterfully wrapped his left foot around the ball from an impending position. Undisputed and revered, Mitro will snag plenty of goals this season if he’s fed – we fundamentally have a player that terrorises for the sheer thrill, a devilish barbed point in the centre of the offensive prong.
Freeing the Flanks
Utilising the flanks gave Fulham a devastating dynamic in the second-half as it allowed the likes of Andre Schurrle and Vietto to open their legs and burn the full-backs, and with Mitro licking his lips in anticipation, it’s evident that if there’s supply from the channels we’ll craft golden opportunities to capitalise on.
Manoeuvring the ball from the touchline encouraged Timothy Fosu-Mensah in particular to gallop further up the right in order to stretch and disrupt Watford’s structure. With this, TFM deflected attention away from Schurrle which enabled the 2014 World Cup winner to operate, and though the 27-year-old was marginally outfought centrally, from wide he could angle searching balls inbound for his expectant teammates to gather.
Initially, the Whites were tentative and chose to apply the wings at the wrong moments, despite having acres to explore with Ryan Sessegnon and Fosu-Mensah eagerly lurking. As the match whittled onward, however, fatigue took a stranglehold and the flanks were used as the ideal route to the target, and whilst playing an attractive brand of football is pleasing, we’ll occasionally have to revert to a more direct, expansive approach, as we’re often guilty of overcooking.