What an exhilarating encounter we had on Wednesday evening down by the river, under the lights, against one of Claudio Ranieri’s former employers, Leicester City. Following Sunday’s raucous away support that shook Stamford Bridge, Craven Cottage was literally bouncing. Well, the Hammersmith End definitely swayed and oscillated wildly, that’s for sure.
From Ranieri’s perspective, it must have felt as though he had bumped into an old flame of his with his latest conquest, the Whites, whilst engaging in fond, flirtatious memories. Two exes in a slim matter of days? It’s safe to say that the wily ol’ Italian gets about, but we’re certainly not the jealous type, so we simply stood aside and glared blankly through the Foxes’ wince-worthy pulling game.
I’ve no idea where that scenario surfaced from – probably my own romantic failings played a significant part – but the reality is simple: we drew 1-1 after holding the upper hand for the majority of the fixture but, and this is extremely important, a point is definitely progress and will pay dividends in the long run, even if we could have waltzed away with two more under our belts.
Hit ‘N’ Miss Kamara
Drink it in, people, we actually witnessed Aboubakar Kamara, AK47, rattle a Premier League goal past Kasper Schmeichel from an acute angle, after banishing Caglar Söyüncü for an early pint. For that there’s undoubtedly a fist bump in the offing, but overall the behemoth Frenchman’s performance was terribly, and typically, disjointed and reckless.
Deception is a staple factor of Kamara’s makeup. The 22-year-old’s erratic movement simultaneously bamboozles spectators, opponents and often himself, although whilst he may be a terrifying juggernaut in the danger zone, his timing and poise is utterly woeful. Please, once you’ve charged through basically every defender in the south of England, lift your noggin and locate a teammate in an orderly fashion, yeah?
Bounding towards the byline in the second-half, Kamara, having been threaded through by Ryan Sessegnon, could have found either Aleksandar Mitrovic or Tom Cairney in the penalty area, unmarked, with the target at their mercy. But, AK being the haphazard assault rifle that he is, assaulting the side netting appeared to be the finer, appropriate option. At this point, his solitary, defining first-half strike was long, long forgotten.
Also, because it’s grating me as a slighter male in comparison, why oh why does Kamara flop to the deck like a damp sock every time he’s nudged, tapped or blown by the breeze of the Thames? Not being funny, but he’s literally a rampaging block of flats with limbs, humongous limbs, and if he’s genuinely going to be feared by defenders far and wide, he has to quit the amateur theatrics. If brute strength is the only true benefit he has in his skill set, emulating James Maddison is not an honourable advertisement.
Count On Chambers
Ranieri definitely knew something that we all didn’t when he first elected to deploy Calum Chambers in the centre of the park, but since the ‘Tinker Man’ has, well, tinkered with the defender’s standing in the fold, the Arsenal loanee has been a trustworthy revelation.
Scanning across the breadth of the turf, Chambers buffered Maddison for lengthy spells and intercepted the Foxes’ constructive phases that culminated in the midfield department. Once the 23-year-old had snagged possession, his initial tendency to drive up the park had Wilfred Ndidi and Nampalys Mendy scrambling in retreat, which ultimately unsettled Leicester’s core composure and shape.
Offering himself as a constant option, Chambers enabled Jean-Micheal Seri and Tom Cairney to manipulate proceedings, safe in the knowledge that their adaptable colleague was always ready to receive the ball. Wired defensively, Chambers also observantly guarded the back four tirelessly and was ruthless in his personal duels, both aerially and on the floor.
As predicted in our previous supplement, it’s evident that Chambers, under Ranieri’s supervision, is gradually blooming into an effective box-to-box midfielder. Assured in his conservative responsibilities, the former England U21 patrolled the final third as an auxiliary regista and forced Schmeichel into a magnificent save in the first-half. Calibrating his stance as the ball hopped into his vicinity, Chambers could have been mistaken for Johan Cruyff as he connected with an astonishingly supreme technique, but his artful half-volley was expertly palmed away by his Danish adversary, just before it caressed the inside of the goalmouth.
Show-Stopping Sergio Rico
Okay, I admit it, I’m without question Sergio Rico’s biggest fanboy in existence, and after his heroics between the sticks, once again, against Claude Puel’s offensive armoury, I’ve a catalogue of reasons that will justify his inclusion in this particular Five Thoughts edition.
A spot is habitually reserved for Rico because he is deserved of bottomless praise. The Whites could have been behind within three minutes, if Kelechi Iheanacho was actually capable of doing his job, that is. The Nigerian split our back four and progressed towards the 18-yard box, with just the Spaniard between him and a certain goal. Rico detected jeopardy and sharply sprung from his line to lessen the margin, spread his frame, and batted Iheanacho’s overcooked strike away from crisis. Angles are his forte.
To reaffirm his innate shot-stopping quality, the 25-year-old ‘keeper’s alertness and positional awareness thwarted Wes Morgan’s destined header at the back stick, after Mark Albrighton’s first-time cross floated towards the unopposed Jamaican centre-half. Rico dropped to the foot of the post in a matter of milliseconds to deny what would have been a certain goal, but time stood still from the terraces as we hid behind our hands.
With just four minutes left of added time, Demarai Gray rifled a ferocious effort from the parameter of the penalty area. The ball was en route to the postage stamp, but Rico stepped up to the plate once more to halt the ‘Young Lion’s’ venomous projectile with two clenched fists made out of an iron/brimstone composite. Whenever our pleads are heard, Rico answers them with aplomb.
Mitro the Instigator
Mitrovic may not have bulged the back of the net, but the domineering Serb did inspire with his imperious hold up play. Mitro’ fended off Morgan and Söyüncü without being sufficiently contained or restrained by Leicester’s central pairing and tamed the ball exceptionally. Whether the ball zipped into feet or sailed into his midriff, the 24-year-old fiercely fought to retain possession at every given instance.
Kamara’s inaugural Premier League goal is courtesy of an ingenious spark of nonchalance from Mitro’, in fact. Reading AK’s piercing run, the hardened hit-man capitalised on Ndidi’s scrappy touch and delicately flicked the ball into his teammate’s path. Revered for his overbearing nature, it’s equally pleasing to see Mitro’s intricate flair come to prominence to our benefit.
Linking with Cairney, and Luciano Vietto before he was hauled off at the break, Mitro’ acted as an unmovable hub for our creative protagonists to pivot and feed from. Mitro’ attracted a minimum of two men when the ball was rolled into his proximity and this in turn prised pockets and gullies for his teammates to exploit both infield and along the channels. His presence alone, without even having to directly commit his markers, is vital to our progression on the break.
The Cottagers tested Leicester’s reserve in the dying embers of the tie and could have claimed a last-ditch victory with numerous opportunities. Trapping the ball in the box, Mitro’ nimbly swivelled to evade two opponents and fired across the target. As his effort belted towards three points, Söyüncü somehow managed to divert the ball inches wide of the post with the faintest of touches. Way to extinguish the flames.
We Are Gelling
We are gelling indefinitely. With Ranieri in the technical area we’ve brandished a collective resilience and we’re becoming a particularly troublesome unit to dissect. Yes, Leicester may have sliced us open once or twice, but there’s undoubtedly a cohesive understanding flourishing throughout the set-up.
There’s still cracks to be plastered, but over the last three weeks since Ranieri’s arrival, Fulham have concocted a discipline and solidity that’s founded on familiarity at the back. Brief example: if one centre-half challenges for a header with an opponent, the other should systematically peel off to mop up any potential spillages.
Denis Odoi and Alfie Mawson adequately exemplified this method to nullify the Foxes’ offensive regiment, that were anticipating loose balls to pounce upon. Many other factors could be addressed, scrutinised, whatever, but conducive, effective connections are critical.
Compelling combinations crept into our approach and pivotal members, including Sess’, Chambers and TC, expressed themselves with vigour and enthusiasm, even if their individual exploits didn’t necessarily warrant a triumphant outcome down by the river. We rarely strained ourselves in the engine room because practical bonds are strengthening. Another tick in the amendment box, if you will.
In essence, where Slavisa Jokanovic’s set-up may have floundered, Ranieri’s grafted against a formidable Leicester and matched the visitors blow for blow. That stems from a brewing confidence and belief, a galvanisation that’s going to harbour reward and prosperity as the squad adapts to their new boss’ tried and tested regime. We will climb from the depths, starting at Old Trafford on Saturday.