Is it me, or did that feel like a bitter defeat at the final whistle? Couldn’t help the sour tang, but now that the dust, as well as our stomachs, has settled, Boxing Day’s 1-1 draw against Nuno Espírito Santo’s highly-organised Wolverhampton Wanderers now leaves an intriguingly sweet aftertaste on the pallet, with just a smidgen of apprehension and disappointment.
Refusing to be a killjoy, it’s a point in the right direction and Fulham’s performances are undoubtedly getting stronger week after week under Claudio Ranieri’s calculative command. Our shape, endeavour and discipline was steely and resolute against Wolves, as it was at St. James’ Park, so heading into Saturday’s crunch clash with Huddersfield Town by the river, you’d expect a fairly similar showing from all in white, but a victory is imperative.
There are a lot of positives to divulge and digest during this attractive little supplement before you, and I think we can all agree that those involved have deserved their respective recognition. If there’s a plate of gammon in the fridge, devour it. If there’s a bottle (or two) of Stella Artois beside said plate of pig, guzzle it. If someone’s in your favourite chair, expel them. This’ll be a very compelling read indeed.
Backing Aboubakar Kamara
I don’t know what Ranieri’s slipped into his energy drinks, but Aboubakar Kamara has been a complete revelation under the Italian’s supervision, and the explosive forward continued to beguile against Wolves at CC. With all the offensive weapons we have at our disposal, AK47 is the one figure that truly supports and compliments Aleksandar Mitrovic.
There’s not one defender in the Premier League that’s equipped enough to tame Kamara’s raw pace and power, and once the Frenchman reaches full tilt, with or without the ball, he’s an opponent’s nightmare. Jonathan Castro Otto and Willy Boly tried to leash the 23-year-old along the right channel, but not even their astute qualities could relinquish his appetite to manipulate on the counter attack.
Intensity is the predominant factor in AK’s personal game and his fervour and ferocity in the final third is an invaluable asset to the Whites. The opening 45 was the former SC Amiens attacker’s finest in a Fulham jersey, purely because he exhibited a willingness to incorporate his offensive colleagues with a calculative approach and demeanour. His first touch and tactical awareness has been slandered throughout the current campaign, but he held possession wisely and offloaded adroitly.
A vibrant, robust component, Kamara fought and endeavoured to dismantle Wolves’ rearguard but was replaced by Tom Cairney in the 73rd minute. Receiving a standing ovation, Kamara has flourished over the winter/festive period and still has the capacity to build upon his skill set. Fulham start lethargically, and that has to be ruled out as soon as humanly possible. But as AK naturally injects an unrelenting brunt into proceedings, he has to be named in our starting XI against Huddersfield Town.
Jean-Micheal Seri’s Redemption
Have been utterly dismayed by Jean-Micheal Seri’s recent performances for the Whites. The Ivorian’s been a lukewarm protagonist in the middle of the park and his sluggish, lackadaisical tendencies have hindered the entire fold, but I have to admit, Seri’s 82 minutes on the turf against Santo’s side were proficient, versed and above all, ridiculously refreshing.
Alongside Calum Chambers in the heart of our midfield corps, Seri dug deep and disrupted Wolves’ continuity to form an impenetrable blanket in front of our three centre-halves. The 27-year-old’s befallen criticism and his defensive attributes have thus been scrutinised, but as he adopted a deeper position to stifle the likes of Morgan Gibbs-White, Joao Moutinho and Romain Saiss, the midfield metronome’s endless plaudits were justified.
The centre of the park was congested and operating within the midfield melee proved to be a laborious chore, although Seri showcased his class and calibre with a string of sharp, incisive ventures with the ball under his spell. Firing in all cylinders, Seri shielded possession whilst being a constant creative HUB, and shepherded the length and breadth of his department to ensure that his men remained in a stable, cohesive state.
Hauled off in the latter stages for a grossly unprepared Kevin McDonald, Seri’s absence was immediately felt when Wolves capitalised just three minutes later. Seri safeguarded our defensive unit with an animated dedication, but it was markedly clear that as soon as the renowned craftsman departed the delicately poised encounter, vitality and enthusiasm followed in his shadow. A conjuring influence, Seri is an integral cog in our first-team compliment, and whilst he’s floundered in previous outings, he’s undoubtedly our most industrious, diligent combatant.
Swap Schurrle For Sess’
Ryan Sessegnon is much more effective than Andre Schurrle. As soon as the 18-year-old entered the fray against Wolves at the German’s expense, the tie flipped on its head in our favour. Before Schurrle trudged off in the 66th minute, Wolves were dominant in every department and Fulham struggled to stretch the visitors when we’d prised the ball from their assured clasp. Sess’ was an illusive outlet that augmented play, asked fundamental questions, and netted a pivotal goal at the Hammersmith End, his first in the top-flight at home.
Now, I understand that in the first-half the Borussia Dortmund loanee linked up with Mitro and Kamara accordingly and even sculpted notable phases of his own in front of the target, but the esteemed World Cup winner simply doesn’t have what it takes to exploit the flanks, as well as his marker. Those accompanying Mitro in the offensive prong are effectively inverted forwards, however as and when we have to drag our opponents out of their comfort zones, they’re also expected to hug the touchlines – an auxiliary winger, if you will.
Both Sess’ and Schurrle can orchestrate as part of a front three, that’s for certain, but the revered youngster’s undeniable intricacy and judgement is better suited to Ranieri’s system. To further my reasoning, pressing from the front and strangulating the opponent is a staple demand. Sess’ innate defensive perceptiveness enables us to squeeze appropriately as he hounds and hassles in a conserving, inimitable manner. Schurrle, as highlighted in previous editions, is laboured and tentative whilst condensing the space between the ball and his opponent.
Sess’ took to the turf and had Matt Doherty and Ryan Bennett scrambling after his surging runs in wider positions. Fatigue will always factor, but the England U21 international’s uncanny ability to effortlessly beat his man never wavers or falters. Schurrle has initiated countless foot races this season and has lagged in virtually every instance, even with a fresh set of legs. Despite a relatively bright start against Wolves, Schurrle faded drastically in the second-half and his underlying attitude’s still a substantial headache. In contrast, the Motspur Park product will invest every fibre of his being to our survival cause, and his allegiance will benefit our prosperity, especially in the midst of a dog fight. His vigour, flare and passion translates into his performances on a weekly basis and it told against Wolves.
Captain Cairney’s Conundrum
I’m going to take a deep breath, brace myself, and say it loudly and clearly: where does Tom Cairney fit into Ranieri’s revised blueprints at Fulham? Injury woes have hindered TC’s season in the Premier League, granted, but with Chambers and Seri stamping their mark upon the Italian tactician’s selection process, are we witnessing the skipper supremo’s demise at the Cottage?
Featuring from the bench on Boxing Day and in previous encounters, Cairney has been distributed on the right side of the attacking trident and it simply hasn’t gone to plan for the Scotland international. The 27-year-old playmaker’s cut a lost, forlorn figure whilst conducting himself in an alien area, and if we’re to utilise and harness his superior ingenuity to our profit, Ranieri has to recognise that he’s a mediator between the spine of the fold and the attacking regiment. Vitally, he’s an indispensable central figure, a critical provider, not a peripheral member.
Wolves’ equaliser culminated from the right side, with Ivan Cavaleiro angling a teasing ball into our 18-yard box. Denis Odoi gifted the Portuguese winger an opportunity to supply Saiss, but it all stemmed from the Whites’ reluctance to sink their canines into the confrontation and assert their authority. Cairney, our captain, is obliged to heighten morale as well as our application and work rate. We eased off the gas and left the door ajar for Wolves to waltz through. He should have been tearing after both man and ball as an accountable despot, but his shoulders drooped furthest as the visitors wheeled off in celebration.
After being pegged back, though, Cairney realised the importance of rallying as a squad and concentrated on executing his defensive duties. We withheld Wolves and denied further bloodshed as a result, but the midfield visionary wasn’t able to competently construct. Evidently irked at the final whistle, TC charged down the tunnel and that’s completely understandable. He’s a talisman that’s currently being discarded. An unconvincing 20 minute cameo, out of position, has suddenly morphed the Play-Off Final hero into a dastardly villain. Cairney embodies all that our club stands for, and under new management, there’s bound to be unflattering teething problems. I, for one, have utmost faith that TC will return to his glittering, undisputed best before long, but as we’re improving at this present time without him in the starting line up, it’s hard to see where he’ll slot back into contention.
Mitro’s Minuet Margins
Agonising. Mitrovic, as he does every time he laces his boots and lowers his brow, bullied Wolves’ rearguard incessantly throughout at CC and was inches away from lodging a winner at the death for the Cottagers. Producing a sterling display as a loan hit-man, all that was missing for the dogged Serb’s afternoon was a goal to cap off his intrepid performance.
Santo revealed that his defence would have to be brave and wary of the 24-year-old’s deadly prowess in the final third, but they were shoved to the wire as the determined marksman bustled undeterred into imposing areas. Following a towering header and a Christie cross-come-shot that whistled wide by a whisker, Mitro’ could registered a defining blow in the 40th minute. Blockading the ball with three men vying to disarm, Mitro’ jinked into the penalty area and dumbfounded both Boly and Coady after cunningly fainting inside his markers. Biding his time, Mitro’ fired goal-bound but Rui Patricio was primed to foil his effort. Either side of the stopper, Fulham would have danced into the interval with a plush 1-goal cushion.
Killing lofted balls and overpowering his direct opponents, Mitro’, who was well within the confines of his natural habitat as a ruthless predator, invited his teammates to combine and compose on the break. Other than contributing to Sess’ opener within the danger area, Mitro’s imposing opportunities were limited in the second-half, although his imperious presence was always apparent, right up until the dying embers, in fact.
Sergio Rico’s distribution is poetry in motion at times, and as the Spaniard’s heat-seeking missile propelled from his penalty area, a tantalising battle of strength, hunger and instinct erupted. With the ball skipping off the surface, Mitro’ wrenched through Wolves’ scurrying centre-backs and sidled into a prime location to inflict pain and angst upon the West Midlanders. Noticing the onrushing Patricio, Mitro wedged the ball towards a vacant target and a triumphant goal seemed imminent. The Cottage was fizzing, we thought we’d clinched three crucial points, but Mitro’s trickling effort was frantically cleared by Coady. No matter how many times we glare at the replay, it still won’t nestle.