Gravity’s a killer. Sniped from a great height by Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace, Claudio Ranieri’s Fulham swiftly reacquainted themselves with the earth’s crust after sidling through a Premier League fixture that they simply had to win or draw at the very least. We thought that we’d turned a corner following Tuesday’s heroics against Brighton & Hove Albion, but this campaign evidently has many chicanes to scale in Nürburgring proportions.
As Fulham fans, we live in a perpetual state of bewilderment. We never expect miracles to occur, but we always believe that our fortunes will change. Are we relegated at this very moment? No, but it certainly feels like we’re a doomed, downed entity. Amidst diluted sanguine, our club is rife with defeatist pessimism and our collective slump in spirit is breathlessly legitimised.
For contextual purposes, we are 19th with 17 points, 7 points off safety and our next top-flight encounters in February are none other than Manchester United, West Ham United and Southampton. A mixed bag, perhaps, but March’s schedule sends shivers down my spine. Chelsea, Leicester City, Liverpool and Manchester City. Needless to add, but that is going to be an extremely torrid month to endure. If you thought the ride thus far’s been bumpy, then prepare yourselves for morale-shattering turbulence.
Inferior Right-Back Rotation
Cyrus Christie and Timothy Fosu-Mensah are stealing a living in the Premier League and are without a single doubt the most inept full-backs I’ve ever had the displeasure of glaring at on a weekly basis in a Fulham jersey. Both are plagued with dire inadequacies and both were invariably perturbed by Patrick van Aanholt, Jeffrey Schlupp and Bakary Sako.
Unsettled and visibly shaken, Christie couldn’t contain the Eagles’ mobility and trailed in his opponent’s wake. Laboured and outfought, the 26-year-old was well and truly out of his depth. Shuffling into advanced positions, the Republic of Ireland international tentatively administered the ball and was exceedingly immoderate in his offensive obligations. Literally handing Palace an opportunity to break the deadlock in the 25th minute, having jabbed the ball in the penalty area, Christie’s certainly more of an encumbrance than he is an effective, assured asset.
Departing the field of play with a supposed injury in the 62nd minute, Fosu-Mensah entered proceedings as Christie trudged to the dugout. Where Christie failed to make an impact, the 21-year-old Manchester United loanee emulated. TFM idly jockeyed Palace’s shadows and his end product, like Christie’s, was grossly atrocious. It was routine for van Aanholt against our deplorable duo, who rarely engaged and committed the Dutch international in the final third. It’s staggering, but how was acquiring a suitable right-back not a fundamental priority in the January transfer window? Ranieri, swallow your pride, insert your ego and give Steven Sessegnon his Premier League bow.
Mercilessly Muzzled Mitro
We failed to register a single shot on target at Selhurst Park and that is a damning indication of just how flat and muted we were in front of Vicente Guaita’s goalmouth. A mercurial focal point of ours against Brighton, Aleksandar Mitrovic was begging for scraps in south-London and was systematically discarded by his offensive colleagues. Mitro’ clamoured to wreak havoc, although the 24-year-old was mercilessly muzzled by our reckless hesitation on the flanks, predominantly.
Joe Bryan teased a ball into Palace’s 18-yard box in the 10th minute but Mitro’, who greeted the left-back’s inviting cross, couldn’t steer the ball into the net from point-blank range. Other than that particular instance, the Serb’ was isolated for vast spells of the encounter and cut a discontented figure. Despite his hardened enterprise to hold the likes of James Tomkins and Mamadou Sakho at bay, Mitro’ couldn’t combine with Tom Cairney, Ryan Babel and Luciano Vietto to fashion effective phases in imposing quadrants.
Mitro’ endeavoured to forge gullies and pockets for his creative teammates to construct within, although Palace remained a rigid, disciplined unit and stifled our attempts to split their superior defensive solidity. Mitro’ continually retained possession as a lone striker but support was sparse. Presented with ideal opportunities to locate Mitro’ in perilous positions, our wide options consistently spurned invaluable chances to hoist the ball towards his vicinity. We’ve a unique hit-man in Mitro’, and we’re failing to utilise his lethal prowess, almost on a weekly basis.
Sorrowful Shape Shifting
We did not need to deploy a back five against Palace. That is a fact. Containing Christian Benteke and Jordan Ayew did not warrant three centre-halves and, as clarified earlier in the article, we can not afford to field wing-backs, especially when those who are selected in that capacity are maladroit and unqualified. We found our system in the second-half in our previous fixture, Ranieri. What possessed the Italian to revert to such a negative, neutralised shape?
Cohesion and momentum was thrown to the fire. We were hapless and insipid on the counter and were equally sluggish, pedestrian and monotonous whilst devising inconsequential sequences of play. Compromised due to a grave lack of outlets and inroads in the opening 45, our rearguard was influenced into jabbing the ball from flank to flank with very little objective and fruition.
Vietto replaced Tim Ream at the interval and Ranieri reinstated a back four. We, in the terraces, were incensed by the Tinker Man’s defining decision to disregard our valiant showing against Brighton and were justly bemused to see key components in alien positions once again. There’s no excuse, we are not designed to exhibit a defensive demeanour because we are already one of Europe’s worst in doing so. With three in the midfield, we are mildly convincing, with a regimented back four, we are relatively tolerable, with abundant support in every department, we vaguely resemble a team. Ranieri is not recognising our strengths – fluent, incisive football is in our DNA and we will perish if we do not address and implement a sustainable structure right here, right now.
Subdued Midfield Showing
Reaffirming the drawbacks of our detrimental shape, our midfield corps was disastrously vulnerable against James McArthur and Luka Milivojević. Palace’s central pairing had Andros Townsend and Schlupp in close contention throughout, whereas Calum Chambers and Jean-Micheal Seri were forced to shepherd possession in a banal, suppressed manner. As dexterous and productive as they were against Chris Hughton’s squad, our dependable pairing were shrewdly subdued by the home side.
Tom Cairney is a menace behind Mitro’ and is versed in his progressive responsibilities, but on the right side of the midfield, an area where he can’t demonstrate his ingenuity as freely and frequently, the skipper’s influence was restricted. Chambers and Seri tried to incorporate TC but their efforts were clinically rescinded. Babel found more joy along the chalked parameter, naturally, but we were noticeably feeble and disjointed in our attempts to carve Hodgson’s men open.
Ayew, Townsend, Benteke and then the Belgian’s compatriot, Michy Batshuayi, regularly interchanged to disorientate our rearguard and Chambers, alongside his Ivorian counterpart, struggled to stifle the Eagles’ relentless pressure in the engine room. Our midfield was starved of dynamism, industry and initiative, and as games are usually won and indeed lost in the centre of the park, it was evident that our representatives were ill-prepared for the challenge that lay ahead against Palace and were reluctant to manipulate proceedings in our favour.
Invisible, Innocuous Intensity
Can only propose that we invested all our heart, resilience and intensity on Tuesday night. Anticipating a vibrant, fervent performance from the Whites before kick-off, I was outraged by our lacklustre, despondent approach both on and off the ball. Palace weren’t outstanding, but they undoubtedly wanted to steal the spoils more than we did. Foot off the peddle, the Cottagers trundled to an abrupt defeat away from Craven Cottage, yet again.
With acres to exploit, we inactively ambled the length and breadth park and exemplified a half-measured energy and willingness. The shackles were tightened and we were confined to vapid, sterile passages. Not one member of the matchday contingent wished to heighten the tempo or alter the fabrics and we deservedly paid the price for our impoverished vigour, verve and vitality. We may have held 63% of possession, but we were tediously timid and docile in every conceivable element.
The following faithful were in fine voice, but not even our ardent support could lift the Whites’ slackened tails. Conveyed in previous editions, our plight is self-inflicted. There was no immediate sense of urgency or necessity against Palace and that is a scathing insult to the club, to the cause and most importantly, to the fans. We are circling the drain, yet we are drifting with the current. Our meeting with Palace was not billed as a ‘free hit’, but we meandered throughout the encounter like a loss was an inevitable, forgone conclusion. Normality, as much as it pains me to say, has returned from its brief vacation with a debilitating, rotting illness.