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Berba Off To A Flyer

September 17, 2012

Statistical and dashboard analysis from Fulham’s 3-0 win over West Brom…

I was very pleased with Chris Baird and Steve Sidwell. It was a different system and we only had one day to prepare.

– Fulham manager, Martin Jol (via fulhamfc.com)

With Mousa Dembélé, Danny Murphy, and Dickson Etuhu sold, Mahamadou Diarra injured, and Giorgos Karagounis not yet ready, there was ample scope to the thought that Fulham might struggle in central midfield against a West Brom side that has started impressively this season. Not so. Chris Baird stepped up to ease Fulham’s nerves with a calmly efficient first half passing display – 36/37 passes finding a white shirt. Equally impressive was right-back Sascha Riether – the German bombed forward with aplomb and was an excellent attacking outlet for the Cottagers, flashing five crosses through the West Brom box in the first half alone. Furthermore, his dependability on the ball was eye-catching – Riether completed a game-leading 83/89 passes (93% accuracy) over the ninety minutes…

That Fulham were so dominant down their right flank was reflected in the struggles endured by Baggies left-back Liam Ridgewell, particularly in the opening 45’. Ridgewell conceded two fouls and failed to make a single tackle or interception in his own half as Riether and Damien Duff repeatedly combined to torment the full-back. That he was so exposed, however, can be part-attributed to the mediocrity of Peter Odemwingie’s display. The Nigerian, normally a striker, was stationed on the left-flank for the Baggies and repeatedly failed to involve himself meaningfully in the game, contributing just one tackle and a handful of passes (10/16, 62%) before seeing red in the 38th minute. His ludicrous kick on Riether, added to one speculative effort from range, are undoubtedly an apt reflection of the frustrations endured by an uninvolved, out-of-position footballer…

I’m really happy and it’s going really well for me at the moment. I just want to keep on going and hopefully start more matches. The Manager gave me pat on the back and told me to do the same in the next game I play.

– Fulham’s Alex Kačaniklić (via fulhamfc.com)

Despite this right-sided dominance, both of Fulham’s first half goals game down their left (as can be seen in the goal build-ups below), with young Swedish winger Alex Kačaniklić the creator for both Dimitar Berbatov strikes. The first arrived after yet more sustained possession down Fulham’s right, before a switch of play exposed a Baggies defence that had been stretched across the full width of the Cottage turf. The second arrived after more trickery from Kačaniklić – the winger felled by a needless Billy Jones lunge, who himself moments before went surging into Fulham’s area. Adrenalin still flowing perhaps?…

It was a great home debut. I had a feeling before the game that it would be a good day for the Team and me. And it’s a great feeling. I feel satisfied with the result and my play, and all the supporters are happy as well.

– Fulham’s Dimitar Berbatov (via fulhamfc.com)

Dimitar Berbatov’s goals were a rich reward for an impressive home debut – the Bulgarian regularly dropped between the lines and linked Fulham’s attacking play, almost exclusively along the deck it must be added, which will appeal to the footballing purists at Craven Cottage. The deftness of touch and superb finish for the opening goal was entirely befitting of a player manager Martin Jol dubbed ‘the biggest signing in the history of Fulham,’ and Fulham should look forward to many more moments of similar quality over the season. Baggies manager Steve Clarke, however, will no doubt be berating his players for affording the former Golden Boot winner a ludicrous amount of time and space for his first goal, as the Bulgarian advanced unchallenged from midfield into the visitor’s area before curling the ball past Ben Foster…

Alas, with Fulham two-goals and a man to the good at the interval, the beginning of the second period was all about taking the sting out of any attempted Baggies revival. The Whites successfully achieved this through simple ball-retention, utilising the extra man well and completing three-times as many passes as West Brom in the ten minutes immediately after half-time (90/94 at 96%, v. 32/41 at 78%). Although the Baggies did have a few moments of joy, the die was cast and Fulham were set to stroll to victory. The fact that Fulham completed more passes in the second half (315) than West Brom managed in the entire ninety minutes (302) paints a fairly clear picture…

This dominance was reflected in the volume of shots the hosts enjoyed over the final twenty minutes – fourteen in total, with Ben Foster tested eight times. Steve Sidwell bagged Fulham’s third as the game drew to a close – a deserved goal for the midfielder who had put in an impressive all-round display characterised by energy, reliable passing, and winning the ball back a number of times…

Finally, as good as Sidwell and Baird were in central midfield for Fulham (they were two of the three most prolific passers on Saturday), one must question the passivity of West Brom’s midfield in the key central region. In contrast to a far more proactive Fulham side, the Baggies failed to attempt (let alone win) a single tackle or interception in the middle of the pitch (just a few round the fringes), and consequently afforded Sidwell and Baird the chance to dictate the tempo of the game. The Cottagers duly obliged, with over six-hundred passes, a highly impressive completion rate of 92%, almost 65% possession, and a three-goal triumph to show for their dominance. Room for improvement by West Brom of course, but an impressive display by Fulham nonetheless…

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