Five Thoughts: Cardiff City 4-2 Fulham

Cameron Ramsey 22nd October 2018
Photo: Press Association

It was another miserable afternoon for Fulham on Saturday, as Neil Warnock’s Cardiff side doubled their goals tally for the season against our porous defence. Here are Cam Ramsey‘s five thoughts following this latest defeat.

Fulham were utterly atrocious. Before kick-off at the Cardiff City Stadium, the Bluebirds had only netted four goals in their previous eight Premier League fixtures and hadn’t even registered a win. Dare I continue with this article?

It’s our worst ever start to a season in the top-flight and nothing more really needs to be said – but I’ll press on through gritted teeth. When is Slavisa Jokanovic’s faltering fold going to finally click? Heading into the encounter in south Wales, we knew that a win was imperative alongside a solid display, but our demise was our own diabolical, toxic creation.

With AFC Bournemouth looming, we all have to stand up, dust ourselves down and digest that cripplingly sour slice of humble pie, because if we’re going to bounce back after being humiliated by Neil ‘Colin’ Warnock’s uninspiring, Sunday League set-up, we desperately need to relocate our bottle, cojones and unity.

Disastrous Defending

Slav’ decided to rotate his defensive contingent once again against Cardiff City and to be frank, honest and critically brutal, I’m getting sick and tired of his haphazard selections. Following our crushing defeat against Arsenal the rearguard’s performance was branded detrimental, but it was much, much more severe against the Blues.

The goals that we conceded were crafted by the Whites’ hesitant indecisiveness and there wasn’t one man on that field that practised their leadership. Holding our shape has been a reoccurring conundrum and Cardiff, much like the Gunners did, devastatingly exploited every cavity of unmanned space in our defensive quarters.

Sufficiently guarding the right channel is sheer mythology for the Cottagers, as in Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s absence, neither Cyrus Christie or indeed Calum Chambers have showcased an ounce of responsibility between them, and Warnock’s buoyant squad systematically identified that particular flank as the south-west Londoners’ Achilles heel.

“Put your bloody foot through it” was a phrase that bellowed from my mouth far too often. It’s school boy basics – if you’re a defender and in a substantial spot of doubt, lump it or go home. Why Tim Ream, Denis Odoi and Maxime Le Marchand choose to Cruyff, chop and pirouette on the ball in vulnerable areas is beyond us all, and the overall organisation was virtually extinct. We are not amending our defensive ineptitude and that is an ugly, glaring dilemma.

Sublime Sess’

A shining light in what was a dismal, dreary outing for the Cottagers, it’s evident that Ryan Sessegnon is growing and developing with every single minute that he’s clocked up this season, and his underlying class and calibre was apparent throughout the encounter in Cardiff.

Showing for the ball and making himself an option for his midfield colleagues to pinpoint, Sess’ was free to roam his flank without being nullified, tethered or contained. Where others in Fulham’s matchday squad failed, the observant teenager endeavoured to maintain his lofty standards and displayed an assured ethic in his defensive and offensive responsibilities.

Physically, the 18-year-old has previously been outfought in 50/50 challenges, but Sess’ retained possession superbly and also exhibited a brawn and determination to hold the likes of Victor Camarasa at an arm’s length whilst being hounded.

His expertly dispatched strike, however, highlights that the England U21 international is truly prepared and equipped to make his mark at the highest level possible. Stealing a march on Joe Bennett, Aleksandar Mitrovic’s intricate nudge committed Neil Etheridge, and as Sess’ hoisted the ball over the former Fulham stopper, he simultaneously etched his name into the record books by becoming the first player born in the new millennium to register a Premier League goal. Records are set, Sess’ smashes them.

Betts’ Baffling Blunders

I believe that I speak for a vast majority of Fulham fans when I say that promoting talent from our youth ranks is key to reinforcing our identity as a club, but after a questionable spell between the sticks for the Whites recently, is it time that the batten is passed from Marcus Bettinelli to Sergio Rico, or indeed, back to Fabricio?

Betts’ distribution, decision making and responsiveness was completely below par, and there were notable instances where the 26-year-old ‘keeper appeared despondent, forlorn and dejected when executing his fundamental, bread and butter duties.

Frantically clawing at crosses when he should be clutching the ball comfortably with both hands. Snatching at simple, routine clearances which subsequently sailed aimlessly in the terraces. Erratically charging out of his 18-yard box to haul himself into both man and ball. We forget that this individual has just returned from international duty, where he’s been surrounded by a core of England’s best and most respected coaches.

It’s Cardiff’s third goal that sticks out like a sore thumb, however. How Callum Paterson – a former Hearts right-back – managed to trickle his tame effort past Bettinelli is utterly astonishing. Betts was wrong-footed, granted, but the 23-year-old Scotsman’s docile effort could and should have been thwarted. It’s as though Betts was wading through tar before he despairingly flung himself to the deck. Genuine palm to the face moment.

Squandering Possession

We struggled to set the tempo and stretch Cardiff accordingly, and once we’re on the back foot, it’s apparent that we crumble mentally, disregard our obligations and squander possession. Our midfield rank is laden with vision and dexterity, but there’s an outright impracticality in our system, and that’s indecision and tentativeness on the ball.

Locating Jean-Micheal Seri is paramount to our offensive approach, as the Ivory Coast international is deeply influential with the ball at his feet. But those around the 27-year-old in the engine room – most notably Stefan Johansen – against Cardiff are not top-flight contenders. Elementary passes were misplaced, vital instances were discarded and a disjointed, motiveless Fulham were unable to dismantle the home side.

A consummate Premier League professional has to be one step ahead of their opponent. Yes, we wanted to express ourselves with the ball and dictate, but this season we’ve rarely unearthed fruition in our sequences, and once the opposition has regrouped, we were regularly culprit to spurning prime opportunities to punish on the break.

Even with 60% possession, Slav’s men couldn’t condemn the Bluebirds to a home defeat. With an early lead and the upper hand, we had to capitalise with slick, incisive spells, but our underlying recklessness with the ball invited Cardiff to profit from our wasteful disposition. If Cardiff of all teams can pounce on our carelessness and prosper, then we’re certainly in for a long, toilsome campaign if we do not address our frailties and inadequacies.

Trigger Happy Schurrle

The negatives speak for themselves and it’s clear that we fundamentally have to improve, but for our health and well-being, we’ll end on a positive note: Andre Schurrle assaulted the net with an absolute worldie, and for four minutes or so after his unfathomable effort, jaws were slackened and minds were dazed into a state of unbridled delirium.

Against Arsenal, Schurrle’s speculative strikes whistled into the atmosphere and were accompanied by tiresome groans and objections. Although the German had a purposeful glint in his eye before his right boot ruthlessly spanked the ball into Etheridge’s target, an unflinching technique that had ‘top bins’ stamped all over it in fluorescent, flashing lights.

35-yards out and the 27-year-old collects Seri’s constructive pass. With the goalmouth on the horizon, a tantalising mirage, Schurrle shifted his weight to disorientate Harry Arter and calibrated his sights. As we gazed on from our own individual vantage points, the former Chelsea star sharply pulverised the ball with his laces to unleash a ferocious hammer blow.

It didn’t glide towards the target, oh no, it arrowed like a high-velocity medicine ball filled with feverish wasps, and though Etheridge may have bristled his fingertips on Schurrle’s meteoric projectile, he ultimately couldn’t halt the Borussia Dortmund loanee from tallying his fourth domestic goal of the 2018-19 schedule. More of the same please, Andre.

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