After disastrous distribution cost the Whites again, Jordan Forward-Lamb points the finger at Marco Silva’s reluctance to get it launched.
We saw it clear as day against Chelsea for their second goal: Fulham’s centre-backs in possession, an ocean of space between them, and more opposition players in front of them than teammates. Next comes a wayward infield ball to a teammate who’s reluctantly running back to offer a passing option, and sure enough high-pressing Chelsea find themselves practically through on goal against a defence that had willingly split itself apart trying to find a teammate.
It was Ream against Chelsea and Bassey against Spurs, but we’ve seen the same situation repeat itself time and time again this season. As pointed out by The Athletic’s Peter Rutzler, Fulham lead the league table for errors that have led to goals. Some have come down to simple defensive mistakes like Diop’s ball-watching that led to Chelsea’s first, but blunders like Bassey’s have been occurring since the start of the season.
Tale as old as… the season
Fulham were lucky Everton had Maupay up front when Ream had a lob pass intercepted in the very first minute of the season opener. Ream was practically on the touchline when Maupay got the ball – it would have taken one more proactive Everton run through to make that nailed on goal. It happened a handful more times in the same match, but Everton weren’t clinical enough to make it count. Even Norwich forced Diop into some disastrous distribution in the Carabao Cup, forcing him into his own corner where he slashed a ball into the feet of Płacheta – again, we got away with it because it was Norwich.
Ruthless at the top
Fulham have played out from the back all season, but it’s only against Chelsea and Spurs where that style has cost us. Everton and Norwich were wasteful, teams like Luton and Sheffield United didn’t try to press at all, and title challengers Man City and Arsenal swallowed up so much possession the Whites rarely had the chance to pass it around at the back. But when Fulham have been allowed to have the ball and then pressed by a competent, coordinated team they’ve become totally unstuck.
Postecoglou and Pochettino saw how Fulham would set up and countered it perfectly, so Silva insisting on the same setup is a decision that sits somewhere between overconfident and arrogant. And it’s closer to the latter when you consider that both Ream and Bassey are left-footed, with Bassey playing out of position on the right. When Ream’s forced out wide he’s got the freedom to play the pass or cut back inside with his strong left foot, but it’s a grim prospect for Bassey to his right: as soon as he’s facing the touchline he’s at a disadvantage.
Spurs exploited this with ease. When Bassey receives the ball before the first goal he’s looking at three Spurs players – Son is blocking the pass back to Leno, Maddison makes a central pass unappealing, and Richarlison is already closing down Castagne to Bassey’s right. If he picks the short pass to Castagne he’s effectively passing the buck. He can try to lob it back across goal to Ream, but Kulusevski’s lurking there. So Bassey does what we presume Silva has been telling him to do and attempts to pass through the press to Lukic. The second goal is even more egregious in that Bassey receives the ball in an even more isolated position with fewer options and less time to make the right call. And we’ve heard Silva speak endlessly about being brave in possession in the past, so it’s hard to believe that Bassey would have been instructed to get it launched, Big Sam style.
With friends like these…
And then the questions need to be asked about the role of Bassey’s teammates in the two Spurs goals. Lukic, the closest midfield option for the first goal, is nearly on the halfway line when Bassey gets the ball and I’m convinced he could have got something on it. Ream’s initial position keeps Son onside, and he compounds the error by body-checking Bassey who’s well on his way to getting an actual block in. Leno doesn’t exactly help Bassey out either. In both goal instances it’s Leno that plays a horizontal pass out wide to the Nigerian international, forcing him into a very tight angle on his weaker foot. Leno has the time, vision, and long-ball expertise to find Vini or De Cordova-Reid, or to just get rid.
To Marco’s credit, he was quick to save Bassey’s blushes in his post-match presser, pointing out the midfield’s dodgy positioning for the second goal and highlighting the many attacking chances spurned by Fulham. Things did improve after the second goal, with Leno electing to go long more regularly and a more dynamic midfield managing to win second balls and find dangerous chances in the transitions. It was a finish to the game that reflected what Fulham could bring to the party if they had set up in a way that acknowledged their shortcomings, but it was all too little, too late.
A loss against Spurs was always on the cards, but now there are questions around Bassey that he really doesn’t deserve. He looked indomitable before the first goal and solid for much of the 90 minutes. In the opening 20 minutes we saw strength and composure, plus some beautiful long passes – from the left foot, naturally. There was a great moment in the 17th minute when Bassey calmly held Udogie off with one arm before whipping a ball out to Robinson. Two minutes later he delivered an inch-perfect diagonal pass to Willian that really should have led to something. Bassey is quality, make no mistake about it, and he almost had a good game.
Playing out from the back is a risk/reward system, and few teams have shown the potential benefits of that as clearly this season as Spurs. Fulham are running all the same risks, but without a convincing attack I’m struggling to see where the reward comes in for Silva’s squad.