Five Thoughts: Newcastle United 0-0 Fulham

Cameron Ramsey 23rd December 2018

We did it. We actually kept a clean sheet in the Premier League. Drink it in, we’re an unwavering defensive collective and there’s nothing in existence that can breach us. Well, maybe I’m being a tad hasty, but Saturday’s 0-0 draw against Newcastle United proved that Claudio Ranieri’s operation is drifting in the right direction.

Speaking truthfully, the Whites could have actually snagged the spoils at the death, but it’s a solitary point away from Craven Cottage that will aid us in our festive quest. They all pay dividends eventually. Just for the record, Mr Atkinson, Jamaal Lascelles did handle Aleksandar Mitrovic’s effort in the penalty area but hey, thanks for ignoring Kenedy’s dubious penalty shout beforehand. But I digress.

In other less significant circumstances, I’d struggle to pinpoint any notable talking points from a simple, drab draw, however I’m led to believe that Fulham invested all they had to offer and limited Rafa Benitez’s Magpies in their attempts to establish themselves upon proceedings. It wasn’t the early cliched crimbo cracker we were pining for, but I’m confident when I proclaim that Ranieri’s regime will certainly bring us unbridled joy and splendour. From everyone at Fulhamish, have yourself a very merry Christmas, and we’ll see you down by the river on Boxing Day!

Compact, Resilient, Excellent

Fulham’s rearguard and midfield department have lacked genuine cohesion and solidity since the start of the campaign, and our porous tendencies are systemically targeted week in, week out in the top-flight to our detriment. At St. James’ Park, though, the Whites adopted a hardened do or die attitude in their conservative obligations and suppressed Newcastle in the final third.

Deploying three centre-halves with two flying wing-backs, Fulham were able to absorb Newcastle’s expeditions along the channels as there was always a constant blanket of defensive despots to contain the home side. Christian Atsu, Matt Ritchie and Ayoze Perez threatened to exploit both Cyrus Christie and Joe Bryan, but Tim Ream and Denis Odoi were primed to stifle the nimble attackers if they’d split Fulham in wider areas. Whilst retreating, it’s necessary for a squad to trickle back as a rigid entirety – it wasn’t a markedly pristine performance, but the Whites buttressed and restricted in an assertive, insistent manner.

Salomon Rondon, being a vastly physical presence, operated as a lone striker for the Toon, but the firm Venezuelan hit-man was consummately nullified by Fulham’s unyielding central trio of Ream, Odoi and Alfie Mawson. Muzzling Rondon was imperative as it essentially disabled Newcastle’s advancements through the centre of the park, an encumbrance that ultimately enticed the North East outfit to spread the ball from flank to flank as Fulham resolutely held their shape and discipline.

Newcastle efficiently utilised their set-piece routines and could have diverted from sweeping free-kicks and corners, although the Cottagers were aware of the hazards Benitez’s men posed aerially and assembled appropriately. Newcastle methodically promoted the back stick as a viable route to the target, with Lascelles or Rondon alternating between each individual phase. Nodding into impending zones, Fulham hurled themselves at the ball to impede Newcastle’s procedures. Whether a hack or a scuff was applied, Fulham squeezed and condensed as a team to thwart Newcastle once the ball had departed the 18-yard box.

Mitro Was Isolated

Mitrovic is not blessed with blistering pace and eloquent movement, but during the first-half’s initial stages the Serbian attacker was gifted an opportunity to spin behind Newcastle’s back four. Latching onto an incisive through ball on the left side of the pitch, Mitro charged into the Magpies’ penalty area and rifled a driven skimmer towards the target. Unfortunately for us, however, Martin Dubravka was equal to the 24-year-old’s effort. Opening instances were bright for Mitro, but we fundamentally failed to locate the striker for the majority of the encounter at his former employers.

Even with Andre Schurrle and Tom Cairney is close contention, Mitro was tethered and restrained by Lascelles, Paul Dummett and Fabian Schar and rarely marched into commanding quadrants. Often positioned with his back facing the goalmouth, the bustling marksman fended off his direct opponent to retain possession, but his sturdy exploits harboured little fruition.

Mitrovic pressed Newcastle and hounded their defensive line, but when he required support to amplify his pursuit, those behind him struggled to exert themselves in the same overbearing fashion. Mitro was exceedingly unlucky not to have dislodged the ball from Dubravka, however the tentative stopper somehow managed to scramble away from Mitro’s flailing feet. Despairingly glaring at his teammates, Mitro berated and scorned at the non-existent intensity on the break. Plummeting to the deck once play fizzled out, it was evident that Mitro was severely peeved.

It wasn’t Mitro’s finest hour in many respects, either. As the tie whittled down to the closing moments, heavy touches plagued his personal game and his underlying frustrations boiled over, but with one last throw of the dice, he could have notched a pivotal goal at the death. Engineering a slight pocket to inhabit, Mitro fired at the target but Lascelles, as stated previously, stunted his effort with a contentious block. We didn’t employ the flanks enough to unlock Mitro’s ferocity in the box. As stated in recent weeks/months, we have to be brave, hit the byline, and supply him with ammunition if he’s going to bulge the back of the net on a regular basis.

Compatible Seri & Chambers

How we’ve desired an efficient partnership in the engine room. Our midfield corps have previously been accused of being disjointed and fractious, but Calum Chambers and Jean-Micheal Seri safeguarded their defensive colleagues astutely and alertly, and it appeared as though a formidable connection and partnership was developing between them. It’s still got to be fine-tuned, but there’s an unmistakable compatibility forming, a vital understanding that will thrive into a telepathic capacity.

I’ve whined about Seri incessantly in weeks gone by as he’s portrayed himself dismally, but the Ivorian was eager to carry the ball and distribute accordingly against the Magpies. With Chambers by his side, the 27-year-old recognised the importance of plugging Newcastle’s flow and fluidity, and when he was expected to clamour for possession, he transformed himself into a convincing disruptive tool.

Seri was also yellowed after felling Rondon with an irrational but necessary chop. We’ve previously witnessed the former OGC Nice metronome launch himself into innocuous challenges, but his game management and application was a lot more inspired than last week’s West Ham United debacle. Out of possession, Seri’s culprit to trotting aimlessly with no intended purpose, but his work-rate – especially with Mohamed Diamé and Ki Sung-yueng to contend with – was tireless and industrious.

Since deputising as an anchorman, Chambers has flexed his defensive qualities and has also blossomed into a constructive playmaker. The 23-year-old incorporated his protective dexterity to intercept on the parameter of our penalty area and was a dynamic catalyst in a range of differing aspects whilst comfortably retaining possession. Basically, the progressive duo offer the fold the best of both in terms of defensive and offensive expertise, and as their connection broadens, the spine of our set-up will undoubtedly strengthen. We’ve been ridiculously brittle in front of the back four, but as familiarity is key, we have to keep the faith in their partnership as their network continues to flourish.

I’m Sorry, Odoi

I’d like to apologise. In our last edition I wasn’t very complimentary of Odoi whatsoever. Scathing, in fact. But now that he’s back where he seemingly belongs, in the heart of the defence, he’s completely redeemed himself. Many have questioned his ability and stature, but I genuinely believe that the diminutive Belgian answered his critics against Newcastle, myself included.

First thing’s first, Odoi wrangled Rondon valiantly, despite being the slighter professional. Odoi was a niggling thorn in Rondon’s side and made the South American’s afternoon an extremely uncomfortable affair as a result. Covering behind Christie, Odoi acted as an auxiliary full-back and mopped up when his Republic of Ireland counterpart swept aside.

With the ball at his feet, the 30-year-old flipped proceedings on its head. He wasn’t afraid to advance out of the defensive regiment and his presence in the centre of the park allowed the likes of Seri, Cairney and Schurrle to drag Newcastle into vulnerability. Odoi trusts his technical skill set, and whilst I’ve winced at the sheer sight of him pivoting and jinking before, I thought he was oddly one of our more ingenious craftsman because he was bold, adventurous and daring.

Odoi is not a shirker. He could be toiling through a comprehensive drubbing and he’d still propel himself into everything that enters his vicinity. Odoi could be outweighed, outfought, outwitted, but he always plays with his heart on his sleeve and his head held high. Even being one of the smaller players on the turf, Odoi wins his aerial duels and did so against Newcastle when the ball was hoisted into the 18-yard box. If we’re to deploy a back three indefinitely, I’m adamant that Odoi has to start within. His versatility has its pitfalls, of course, but there’s a tangible dependency on his enterprising enthusiasm, especially when we have to stride out of the depths of our defensive territory.

Power of Kamara

As it stands, I would much rather have Aboubakar Kamara on the pitch than, let’s say, Andre Schurrle. The German’s fragility on the counter attack is nothing compared to AK’s bulldozing escapades. The 23-year-old may not possess an ounce of technical ability, but he is an untameable, relentless force. As soon as the haphazard attacker strode off the bench, Fulham were instantly reinvigorated.

I don’t want or intentionally mean to abuse Schurrle after every fixture, but I honestly can’t pinpoint any beneficial attributes of his that compliment our offensive structure and approach. The Borussia Dortmund loanee may have intricacy and vision in his locker, but when a foot race ensues, he doesn’t have the legs, stamina or guile to beat his marker. AK47 has the first touch of a tugboat, but he ruthlessly blows his opponent out of the water with his searing, sharp movement.

With 15 minutes left to play, the game was evenly balanced and both camps were scouring for a plausible avenue to the target. Swatting off centre-halves, full-backs, Kenedy on a number of separate occasions to our unbridled delight, Kamara bustled bodies into oblivion and trundled into the penalty area. Squaring to Mitro, Newcastle’s focus was fixed solely on Kamara, as it literally takes an army of tiger tanks and tear gas to terminate his progress. Mitro should have done better with his effort, but that particular chance wouldn’t have arisen if Kamara hadn’t jostled his way into an alarming position.

You never really know what you’re going to get when Kamara features. He’s either going to pull a barnstorming performance out of the bag, or he’s going to inflict pain and suffering upon the terraces. In Ranieri’s system, though, the brawny Frenchman certainly has a function. He’s not a leading striker like Mitro is, he’s a free roaming predator that patrols the breadth of the final third for mere scraps to devour. Place him on the wing, he will run – even if he forgets the ball. Plonk him centrally, he will dismantle – whilst tripping over his own leg. I’m not trying to say that he’s a reformed master of his duties, not by a long shot, although there’s undeniable method in the madness. He innately bewilders, bamboozles and stupefies, but he’s an extremely advantageous battering ram, nevertheless.