Tactical Analysis: Fulham 1-0 Norwich

Fulham scrapped their way to a 1-0 win over Norwich at Craven Cottage pulling to within 2 points of their rivals on the day in the race for survival. This was a contest fought hard in midfield with desperately little quality in the attacking third from both sides. It was therefore no surprise it was decided by a set piece.

Both managers started with interesting formations. Neil Adams opted for a diamond 4-4-2 in his first game in charge of Norwich after Chris Hughton's sacking. Bradley Johnson played in front of the back of the back four with Johnny Howson and Leroy Fer narrow to his left and right respectively. Robert Snodgrass played at the top of the diamond behind a front two of Nathan Redmond and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel.

Felix Magath set out with a 3-5-1-1 with Brede Hangeland, Fernando Amorebieta and Johnny Heitinga operating as a back three. Sasha Reither and Kieran Richardson played as wing backs. Mahamadou Diarra played at the base of midfield just in front of the three center backs with Steve Sidwell to his right and Lewis Holtby to his left. Patjim Kasami played off of Hugo Rodallega up front.

Norwich dominated the early proceedings. The midfield diamond meant they had four players in the middle of midfield versus Fulham's three and therefore had a free man to provide a passing option and were able to control possession.

One of the more interesting tactical features of the opening stages occurred down Norwich's attacking left flank. The diamond 4-4-2 vs. 3-5-1-1 match up meant both sides were playing with only one wide player on each side of the pitch. For Fulham it was the wing backs Riether and Richardson, for Norwich it was the fullbacks Steven Whittaker and Martin Olsson. With Norwich playing narrow, Reither didn't have a direct wide midfielder to mark. As a result he would tuck inside to help even up the numbers in the middle of midfield. However, this left Olsson with the space to bomb down the left wing unmarked for Norwich (see graphic below). Olsson provided several decent deliveries into the box in the first half. In the 28th minute he found himself again able to advance unmarked down the left wing and provided a low driven cross for van Wolfswinkel that forced David Stockdale into a world class save.

Fulham 3-5-2. Reither tucks inside to provide extra protection in midfield. Olsson takes advantage of space on the left wing.
Recognizing his side were on the back foot and that Olsson would continue to pose a real threat, Magath changed the home side's shape to 4-5-1. Reither dropped back to left fullback position, Amorebieta slid over to right back. Richardson played as a left midfielder while Kasami moved from his withdrawn forward position to right midfield. The change meant that Reither would have cover from Olsson late runs down the wing as Kasami was tasked with tracking the Norwich fullback when he advanced forward. Reither could tuck inside to offer defensive support in narrow areas knowing Olsson wouldn't be on his own out wide.

Fulham 4-5-1. Fulham go to 4 at back and Kasami moves to right. Provides help on Olsson but leaves Rodallega isolated
While the change may have partially mitigated the threat of Olsson it also meant Fulham had no one close to Rodallega when they won the ball back and the Colombian striker was isolated up front. They couldn't find an outlet ball to spring attacks when they regained possession and were left hitting hopeful long balls into Rodallega. Richardson's bursts with the ball down the left channel were Fulham's only means of transitioning from midfield into the attacking third. As it turned out one of these runs from Richardson would be enough for the three points. On 39 minutes he bit Whittaker for pace down the wing and forced the Fulham left back into a late challenge resulting in a free kick. Rodallega tucked in Sidwell's flicked on header at the front post.

The Cottagers stuck with the 4-5-1 formation in the second half, seemingly content to hold on to their lead. Ashkan Dejagah replaced Kasami on the right wing after Kasami switched off and allowed Olsson in behind. Norwich then made two like-for-like subs- Gary Hooper replaced the out of sorts van Wolfswinkel and Wes Hoolahan came on in midfield for Leroy Fer. Magath signaled his intent to tighten up and keep the 1-0 lead in the 69th minute when he replaced Holtby for the more defensive and tough tackling Scott Parker. The move proved to be a wise one as Parker battled in midfield and used his fresh legs to break forward and provide late runs to the edge of the area in attack.

Adams brought on the 19 year old winger Josh Murphy for the final 10 minutes, replacing Howson. They moved to a 4-4-1-1 with Murphy and Redmond playing on the wings and Snodgrass playing just off Hooper. The changes didn't provide Norwich with any more attacking impetus. Magath replaced the exhausted Diarra with William Kvist in the 85th and the home side was able to fairly comfortably see out the win.

In the end this game was predictably scrappy given both sides' struggles in the league and uncomfortable positions at the bottom of the table. Both sides were sloppy and lacking in quality in the final third. A set piece was a fitting way for this one to be decided.

Tactical Analysis: Arsenal pick apart disjointed Fulham defense

Arsenal ran out comfortable 3-1 winners over Fulham at Craven Cottage to secure the Gunners' first win of the season and further ease some of the pressure that had mounted after their opening day defeat to Aston Villa. First half goals from Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski put Arsenal firmly in control. Podolski added his second in the 68th to make it 3-0 and put the contest beyond doubt. Darren Bent got a consolation goal for the home side in his first appearance with the Cottagers.

With Laurent Koscielny suspended Bacary Sagna slid in to center back and Carl Jenkinson started at right back. Arsene Wenger opted to rest Jack Wilshere and went with a midfield three of Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky. Ramsey sat in front of the center backs when Arsenal were in possession with Cazorla to his left and Rosicky to his right in more advanced positions. The formation was therefore more 4-3-3 than Arsenal's usual 4-2-3-1. Podolski played on the left of the front three with Walcott on the right.

Martin Jol made three changes to the side that beat Sunderland in the opening week. New signing Scott Parker replaced Derek Boateng in midfield. David Stockdale came in at goalkeeper in place of the injured Martin Stekelenburg and John Arne Riise was given the start at left back with Kieran Richardson also sidelined with an injury. Fulham's shape was their usual 4-4-1-1 with Patjim Kasami playing off Dimitar Berbatov up top.

The key for Arsenal in the first half was their domination in the center of the park. The 4-3-3 vs. 4-4-1 match up meant Arsenal had a man advantage in the middle of the park that led to Parker and Steve Sidwell simply being overrun in the middle. Fulham defended in two banks of four with Kasami and Berbatov higher up the pitch. Podolski tucked inside from the left giving Arsenal a further advantage in the middle. Both of Arsenal's first half goals came as a result of Parker and Sidwell having too much distance between the two of them and an overall lack of compactness in Fulham's defensive shape. This created loads of space for Arsenal's midfielders to move into.

The image below shows the buildup to Arsenal's opener. Sidwell pressures Cazorla in possession, Parker positions himself centrally just in front of the back four. Ramsey slides into the space to the left of Parker and in front of Riise, receives the pass in space and has plenty of time to turn and shoot before he's closed down. His shot is a weak one but falls to Giroud to tuck home. The issue here for Fulham is the amount of space Ramsey has to collect possession. Ideally in a 4-4-1-1 you'd want either Kasami or Berbatov working back to pressure Cazorla on the ball so that Sidwell can position himself side-by-side with Parker in front of the back four thereby preventing Arsenal's midfielders from easily collecting possession by sliding either side of Parker. There was a real disconnect defensively between Fulham's two center midfielders and two advanced attackers which forced Parker and Sidwell into chasing the ball in midfield while leaving at least one Arsenal midfielder unmarked.

Arsenal's second goal again came from poor defensive shape from Fulham. In the top image below you can see the large distances between Fulham players, leaving huge gaps for Arsenal to play in to. Parker is pressuring Cazorla on the left while Sidwell sits in the middle close to Rosicky. There is some 20 yards of space between the two. Fulham are neither pressing nor organizing into a compact shape at midfield which leaves Arsenal with time on the ball and the space in advanced positions to pick out forward passes. Here, Podolski simply tucks inside from the left and Mertesacker is easily able to play a pass into his feet. With the simplest of balls Arsenal have bisected the Fulham midfield. Podolski receives the pass, Sidwell slides over to close him down and that leaves Cazorla completely unmarked to burst forward through the middle. He's able to slide a ball through to Walcott whose shot can only be pushed by Stockdale into the feet of Podolski to slam home. It's Mertesacker's simple pass into Podolski that has Fulham completely out of position and scrambling to get pressure on the ball. If Fulham are going to press here they need the back four much higher up the pitch. If they aren't going to commit to the press everyone needs to drop off and Parker and Sidwell need to much closer together in the center of midfield.

Fulham neither pressing nor dropping in and getting compact. Too much space between Parker and Sidwell

Podolski easily able to tuck in and collect possession from Mertesacker. Fulham midfield bisected with one simple pass.
Arsenal's second half was professional. Whereas in the first half they defended with banks of four and looked to boss possession, in the second half they defended with a midfield bank of five, conceded some territory to Fulham and looked to hit them on the break. With Arsenal dropping deeper, Fulham had more of the ball in advanced areas than they did in the first half- they completed just 29 passes in the attacking third in the first half compared to 56 in the second half- but Arsenal's compact midfield five meant they were unable to find any decisive penetrating passes to trouble the defense. The Gunners ultimately did hit the home side on the break in the 68th to seal the win.

Overall Arsenal will be pleased with their performance. They dominated meaningful possession in the first half and were able to overrun Fulham in the middle of midfield. Comfortably in control by the end of the first half, they wisely didn't stretch themselves going forward in the second. Given their lack of true holding midfielder in the side, it would have been an unnecessary risk to continue pressing forward as they did in the first half and leave themselves exposed at the back.

Fulham made the game far too easy for Arsenal. They owe much of the loss to some abject defensive shape. They were far too disjointed and Jol will need to make sure Parker and Sidwell stay more compact in future fixtures.

Tactical Analysis: Chelsea 3-0 Fulham

Chelsea cruised to a comfortable 3-0 over a tame Fulham side at Craven Cottage to overtake Arsenal for third place. David Luiz opened the scoring with a blistering effort from 40 yards out in the 30th minute before John Terry scored with his head either side of halftime. It was an efficient performance from the away side, if not an especially mesmerizing one.

Chelsea lined up with Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry and Bertrand across the back four in the Blues' 4-2-3-1. Lampard and Ramires occupied the holding roles while Mata played in his normal central attacking midfield position. Hazard and Moses played on the flanks.

Fulham played a 4-4-1. Reither, Senderos, Hangeland and Riise made up the back four. Enoh and Karagounis played in the middle of midfield with Bryan Ruiz on the right wing and Emanuelson on the left. Berbatov played in the hole off of center forward Petric.

The Blues struggled to carve out any meaningful possession in the attacking third in the opening half hour. Fulham defended in two deep banks of four with Berbatov just in front of the midfield four applying pressure to either Ramires or Lampard, depending on who dropped deepest. Fulham's deep, compact shape made it difficult for the likes of Mata, Hazard and Torres to find space between the seams. As a result Chelsea completed plenty of passes in the final third in the first 30 minutes (more than half the passes they completed in the final third occurred in the opening half hour) but they were balls played horizontally in front of the Fulham defense that weren't especially dangerous.

With Chelsea struggling to find gaps in the Cottagers' defense, the home side would have been happy to take their chances allowing Luiz to shoot speculatively from 40 yards out. However, they were made to pay for their deep defending. With Berbatov picking up Chelsea's deepest midfielder, Petric was left to defend Terry and Luiz 1 v. 2. This allowed the Brazilian to advance into Chelsea's attacking half with time and space on the ball. On 30 minutes he took advantage, collecting a pass from Eden Hazard before unleashing an absolute pile driver into the top corner. Had Fulham defended higher up the pitch he wouldn't have been in a position to take the shot. Of course, defending higher may have also led to the more frightening situations of Chelsea finding space between the lines or in behind the back four.

Chelsea doubled their lead 13 minutes later through John Terry. The Blues' captain had stayed up after Fulham failed to fully clear the danger from a Chelsea corner. The ball ultimately came to Mata on the left sideline and the Spaniard whipped in a perfect cross for Terry to nod home at the back post. The defending from Fulham was poor. Terry was able to slip between Reither and Senderos at the back post. Senderos perhaps could have done more to win the header but he wasn't helped by his right back who should have done better to track the run. Chelsea were in a comfortable 2-0 position without ever really getting out of first gear in the opening half.

Offensively for Fulham, Berbatov looked for space in between the Chelsea lines but for the most part Lampard and Ramires did a good job tracking his movement and denying passes into his feet. As a result he began to drop into deeper areas to get on the ball and the gap between Petric and the rest of the Fulham squad became bigger.

Commentator Ian Wright criticized Petric throughout the match for not making the proper runs back towards the ball but I disagreed. Had Petric continually checked back into midfield for the ball Fulham would have lacked any type of threat behind the Chelsea back four. By staying on the shoulders of Chelsea's center backs, Petric was looking to stretch the opposition and create space in the gaps for Berbatov. Had he continually checked back into midfield for the ball he would have been moving into the same spaces Berbatov was trying to occupy and Fulham would have lacked any threat of a ball played behind the Chelsea defense. The Blues tend to be comfortable defending when they're able to keep everything in front of them. They have much more trouble with balls played in behind.

Fulham's problem going forward seemed to be an inability to get enough players around the ball in the attacking third to create dangerous passing sequences. They were disjointed in the final third and lacked the movement and final ball to break down Chelsea.

In the end it wasn't a particularly exciting match. Fulham never looked like mounting a comeback and with the game secured Chelsea were happy to cruise away with three valuable points

Tactical Analysis: Fulham 2-1 Newcastle

Hugo Rodallega's second half header gave Fulham a 2-1 win over Newcastle after two earlier deflected goals from Steve Sidwell and Hatem Ben Arfa had put the two teams level at 1-1.

Ben Arfa returned from injury for the Magpies and started the game as the left-sided attacking player in a 4-3-3. Jonas Gutierrez and Vurnon Anita played in front of Chiek Tiote in the middle of midfield and Papiss Cisse was again used as a right forward. Alan Pardew's defense was as expected.

Martin Jol selected Rodallega over Mladen Petric to pair with Berbatov at forward in Fulham's 4-4-2.

The tactical development of the game can be broken into three phases that were brought about by tactical and personnel changes from Pardew. In the first phase Newcastle started the game in a 4-3-3 yet were getting dominated in terms of possession despite having an extra midfielder and created few goalscoring opportunities of their own. In the second phase Pardew switched to a 4-4-2 with Ba and Cisse paired up top after Ba had become isolated in the 4-3-3. In the third phase Newcastle were chasing an equalizer and brought on Shola Ameobi to replace Ben Arfa and moved to what was basically three center forwards and began hitting everything long into the box for Ameobi, Ba and Cisse.

Newcastle start in 4-3-3
Newcastle's 4-3-3 meant they had a man advantage in midfield yet they were dominated in this zone. Offensively, Anita was usually picked up by Baird while Sidwell looked after Guttierez. With Berbatov and Rodallega generally staying high up the pitch for Fulham, Tiote was left free in deeper positions in midfield. However, the Ivorian is obviously more combative ball winner than creative passer in his holding midfield role and failed to play any penetrating passes into the final third when he got on the ball. His primary concern was maintaining a position where he could help his center backs slow down Fulham counterattacks when Newcastle lost possession. This was understandable but it also meant Newcastle's extra man in midfield didn't give them an advantage in the final third.

Baird and Sidwell did an excellent job for Fulham sitting in front of the back four and reading passing lanes and intercepting passes. Baird had 8 interceptions, more than twice as many as any player on the field.

Pardew is desperately missing the creativity of Yohan Cabaye in an advanced midfield position. Anita did well circulating the ball but isn't an especially dynamic player and Gutierrez is better on the left wing where he can run at defenders and whip in crosses. Without Cabaye's creative passing in midfield, Newcastle continue to struggle to link the midfield with Ba and have too often resorted to knocking longballs towards the Senegalese forward (this table I produced last week shows Newcastle plays a larger percentage of longballs than any other team).

Fulham's attack largely revolved around two strategies. Firstly,  Dimitar Berbatov dropped off into midfield to collect the ball and direct the Cottagers' moves forward. Secondly, with Newcastle's fullbacks getting into advanced positions, Fulham looked to counter attack down the channels with Rodallega often floating out wide to receive direct passes and break forward quickly. Berbatov did an excellent job getting his two wingers involved early on. Rodallega played more advanced and looked to create overloads for Newcastle's fullbacks by floating into the channels. Sidwell sprinted forward from midfield to join the attack. Fulham's first goal came when Rodallega drifted behind Santon on the right wing, forcing Coloccini out of central defense to follow him all the way to the right touchline. Rodallega slipped a pass towards the end line through to Duff who was able to cut the ball back and find Sidwell at the top of the box for the finish.

Pardew switches to 4-4-2
With Newcastle struggling to get players close enough to Ba for him to have a meaningful passing option, Pardew switched to a 4-4-2 around the 28th minute. Cisse moved alongside Ba up top. Ben Arfa switched to his more comfortable right midfield position and Gutierrez moved from the middle to his natural place on the left wing. Anita played in advance of Tiote in the middle of midfield.

Much has been made about the fact Ba and Cisse have never scored in the same game when both were on the pitch. However, the move to two up top seemed to make sense given Ba had been so isolated in the opening 28 minutes. Newcastle may have been concerned about becoming even more direct with only Anita and Tiote in the middle of midfield. However, Ben Arfa crucially began to tuck into the middle of the pitch from his right-sided position, playing almost as a #10, while Danny Simpson advanced from right back to provide width. Ben Arfa's movement into the middle gave Baird and Sidwell another defensive responsibility. They now had to track the movement of both Ben Arfa moving infield and Anita shuffling forward, meaning one of them was no longer spare to track runs of either Cisse or Ba back into midfield. As a result, Ba began to find space to drop off in between the seams, receive passes, turn and play through balls for Cisse in behind the defense. and the game became very even. A move in which Ba dropped off in front of the Newcastle center backs and slipped Cisse through on goal highlighted the Magpies new offensive potency (though Cisse had strayed into an offsides position and had hit the woodwork anyway). Ben Arfa was excellent providing the link between Newcastle's defense and the two forwards and was Newcastle's key player in the second half. His goal took a fortunate deflection but came when he had tucked inside and received a pass from Simpson on the right.

While Newcastle looked more dangerous after moving to a 4-4-2, Ba and Cisse still seem uncomfortable playing together as a center forward pair. Whereas Berbatov and Rodellega played 17 passes to one another, Ba and Cisse combined for just 5.

Fulham continued to try to counter into the flanks. Martin Jol made what would prove to be a key substitution in the 63rd minute, bringing on Ashkan Dejagah to replace Kacaniklic. Duff switched to the left and Dejagah occupied the right wing. With his first touches of the game, Dejagah was brought down on the right at the edge of the penalty area. Rodallega powerfully headed home the resulting Duff free kick.

Ben Arfa replaced
Trailing 2-1, Pardew replaced Ben Arfa with Shola Ameobi in the 71st, a move that presumably came down to a lack of match fitness for the Frenchman given he had been Newcastle's brightest player. Ameobi moved into the center of what was basically a center forward three for Newcastle with Ba slightly to the left and Cisse slightly to the right. Gutierrez stayed wide on the left while Simpson played very high up the pitch on the right as more of a right midfielder (Newcastle were basically in a flat 3-4-3). They looked to get the ball wide to Gutierrez and Simpson to play early crosses in towards the back post for the three towering forwards to attack. You wont witness a clearer example of route 1 football in a top flight European league. Hangeland and Hughes defended admirably at the center of the Fulham defense. Newcastle attempted 10 crosses after Ameobi's introduction but only one was successful.

Fulham's counterattacks were impressive. The combination of Berbatov's skillful buildup play and Rodallega's hard running worked to great effect. Newcastle were most dangerous when Ben Arfa drifted in space in the middle of the pitch and used his creativity to link with the forwards. Without a creative passer in the middle of midfield they become too direct. Pardew will therefore be desperate to have Cabaye back in the side.