Five Thoughts: Southampton 2-0 Fulham

Cameron Ramsey 28th February 2019

The axe has been looming. “Dilly ding, dilly dong”, the bells tolled for Claudio Ranieri on Thursday afternoon. Following Fulham’s dismal 2-0 defeat against fellow stragglers Southampton on Wednesday night, the desultory Italian’s toilsome tenure down by the river is now, finally, no more. Stubborn, chaotic, vilified, the ‘Tinker Man’ was climatically destined for the chop.

Our identity has been ripped away and mauled by tactless incompetence. Our reputation as an expansive, vibrant outfit has been decimated by negative, neutralised strategies. Our status as a Premier League competitor is criminally fraudulent. But there is one saving grace amid the turbulence: the avid fans of this doomed, bedevilled club in SW6. Players, owners, managers may leave Craven Cottage on a constant conveyor belt, but we will never surrender.

Scott Parker has been entrusted by the iron-fisted powers that be to shepherd the Whites until the end of the season. ‘Super Scotty’ may not be everyone’s ideal appointment, although we are in desperate need of familiarity and cognition behind closed doors. If we are to plunge to the Championship, let’s restore dignity and respectability. This season has been abysmal, so in the name of contingency and fortitude, we must prepare for life outside of the top-flight in the 2019-20 campaign. Get us to Deepdale on a dreary Wednesday night!

Midfield Selection Suppression

Ranieri’s lucky selection dip treated us to an extremely suppressed midfield trio consisting of Kevin MacDonald, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Calum Chambers. Jean-Micheal Seri allegedly sustained a knock against West Ham United, therefore the Ivorian was unavailable, but Fulham’s the hapless Italian fielded an excruciatingly restrained spine, an engine room vacant of zest and gumption.

MacDonald was an unsung hero last season. The anchorman’s hard-hitting ethic struck fear into those who dared to contest in the Championship but in the Premier League, a division that’s crawling with raw pedigree and talent, the Scotsman was chastened by James Ward-Prowse, Oriel Romeu and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. Southampton’s trio flexed an industrious connection and rendered ‘KMac’ an ineffective shadow.

We’ll explore Anguissa in greater depth later, although Chambers was also stifled systematically. The Arsenal loanee’s developed into a balanced regista that’s cutthroat in 50/50 duels and aerial instances, but the 24-year-old auxiliary component simply couldn’t effect proceedings in the dynamic manner that we’ve grown accustom to. Our midfield was ambushed and confined as a result of our subordinate complexion.

Final Third Isolation

It’s a recurring trend that’s plagued our offensive patterns this term but Aleksandar Mitrovic, once again, was completely stranded in the final third. The Serbia international clamours and exerts every fibre of his being to our dwindling cause, although support and assistance was nothing more than an unavailing mirage. On the counter, bereft of rhythm and awareness, each sector of our incoherent set-up was functioning on differing wavelengths and frequencies.

Reaffirming the idiocy behind our midfield draft, Mitro’ found himself toiling as a lonesome figure against Southampton’s three centre-halves. Tracked and muted by Jannik Vestergaard and company, the 24-year-old struggled to incorporate Ryan Babel and Tom Cairney in his offensive escapades, a hindrance that was also promoted by our midfield’s reluctant inability to charge out of their department in a progressive, enterprising tenor. Mitro’ wrangled possession as per, but his cavalier exploits were ultimately neglected.

During the first-half, the Whites brandished a vague intent on the parameter of the Saints’ 18-yard box. Mitro’ wriggled into advantageous areas but couldn’t convert or sufficiently supply his erroneously placed teammates. After the interval with a two-goal berth to relinquish, Fulham froze. Other than rattling Angus Gunn’s crossbar, the visitors halted production. We were an extinguished force in front of the target, although in terms of meaningful altercations, we barely crawled out of the trenches.

Averagely Artless Anguissa

For a man that’s built like a reinforced juggernaut, Anguissa doesn’t have an ounce of brawn or clout in his distinctly deceptive frame. Twinned with the poise of a sedated giraffe of stilts, the mega-money summer signing is not worth his salt. Ambushed in possession, laboured in his conservative requirements, the 23-year-old was submerged by Southampton’s unrelenting application in every conceivable aspect and was subsequently hung up to dry on the south coast.

Anguissa was unspectacular. Granted he’s suffered his fair share of injury setbacks, whilst being overlooked on a weekly basis otherwise, but he was shrugged off, snuffed out and extorted. Lackadaisical with the ball at his feet, Anguissa tempted Ward-Prowse and Yan Valery to pray on his perturbed demeanour. The former Olympique de Marseille enforcer was held hostage and robbed because he was ordinarily passive and apathetic in virtually every aspect.

The Cameroon international routinely distributed possession but was very uninspired. Eager to alter the game to whatever extent he possibly could, Anguissa sauntered down blind alleys, attracted unwarranted attention, and was consistently mugged. As the encounter progressed, the grossly overrated midfielder’s stance deteriorated whilst he patrolled his respective quadrant in a vacuously pedestrian stupor. Can we have our £30m back, Les Phocéens, mate?

Sergio’s Sloppy Stopping

Both of Southampton’s goals were avoidable, manageable and farcical. Our defending and safeguarding in general has been abysmal this term and our naivety was thus broadcast to the top-flight yet again at the opportunistic hands of the Saints. There’s nowhere to hide for Sergio Rico – as a goalkeeper, if you’re unsure to whether you can sufficiently banish danger, stay within your six-yard box and prime yourself. Do not expose vulnerability in your indecision.

Southampton’s 23rd-minute opener arose directly from the Spaniard’s limp, abortive jab at Ryan Bertrand’s teasing corner. Fulham’s onrushing defenders couldn’t thwart Romeu’s driven effort and amongst our dismal disorganisation, the ball cannoned through a forest of flailing legs to bulge the back of the net. It seems that physically catching crosses is now an impractical measure. What a waste of top quality latex.

Charlie Austin, despite having Tim Ream and Havard Nordtveit in close contention, was unopposed in the immediate moments before the Saints’ second of the night. The ex-bricklayer rolled Nathan Redmond into a threatening zone and without a slither of hesitation, the lively winger caressed the ball at Rico’s goal frame. Poised to prevent, the Sevilla FC loanee greeted the England flanker’s effort but the ball fortuitously ricocheted into Ward-Prowse’s path. Pipping Joe Bryan to the ball by a whisker, the expectant central midfielder emphatically crashed home to widen the deficit. Such fine, feasible margins condemned us.

Clarifying Cairney’s Significance

I’ll persist with my ceaseless appreciation of Cairney, because he was arguably the only representative on that field, other than Mitro’, perhaps, that gave a single damn about restoring our shredded pride and dignity. Determined to establish himself within a congested midfield region, Ranieri’s bewildering decision to yank the skipper from proceedings was inexcusably untenable.

Persistently deployed on the right channel in previous meetings, TC’s presence is vastly rescinded. As clarified in numerous editions prior to this, he has to orchestrate from a central position if he’s going to breach rearguards. The Scotland representative pivoted and pirouetted to evade his markers but couldn’t administer possession effectively in his preferred role behind Mitro’ at St. Mary’s. Viable routes and inroads were blockaded, but he was undeterred in his spirited application.

Though the 28-year-old talisman was methodically counteracted by Southampton’s rigorous pressure, he grappled for loose balls, shunted shoulders and stood firm in his personal quest for melioration. In the 69th minute, however, Ranieri replaced the steadfast skipper with Luciano Vietto, the lukewarm, spindly Argentine. That is precisely when the following faithful’s discontent erupted. Why would you sacrifice Cairney – an individual that genuinely loves the badge and would do everything in his power to enhance the club’s prosperity on the turf – for Vietto’s flimsy subservience? That, other than the defining result, was also the culprit straw that snapped the camel’s back.