Stat and Tact preview: Reading vs Fulham
QUICK FIRE STATS
- Fulham have averaged the third highest possession stats in the league (56.7%).
- The visitors have only scored one goal from open play in the league so far this season.
- Away from home, the Cottagers have the highest pass completion percentage (82.3%).
- Fulham have averaged more shots on goal per game (15.4) than the Royals (9.6), but we have scored two more goals.
Going by these stats and the statistics above that, Fulham`s philosophy under Magath is clear in that he favours a possession-style of football, keeping the passing short and simple, especially away from home, where they average 490 short passes per game, compared to at home, where they average just under at 453.
Will Matt Smith have any influence on this?
Fulham made a shrewd acquisition of the 6`6 forward Matt Smith from Leeds, which gives them a different option. They have one of the lowest aerial duel success rates in the league of only 48%; I`m sure that stat had a lot to do with the signing of Smith and also adds a logical strike partner for McCormack up front, with the both spending a season together at Leeds. It remains to be seen whether he will favour Smith from the start, as Magath seems to be leaning towards a narrow diamond 4-3-1-2 system, which doesn`t provide much width to get crosses in for Smith.
POSSIBLE FULHAM LINE-UP
Magath`s constant rotation of his players makes this a lottery to try and guess his team, but I expect it to be similar to that of the team that drew with Cardiff two weeks ago, in what was their best showing of the season so far.
Magath has flirted between 4-4-2 and 4-3-1-2 so far this campaign, but on the last occasion he played 4-4-2 away from home, they were constantly cut open through the middle and conceded five goals to Derby. I expect him to revert back to the 4-3-1-2, keeping Hoogland and Hyndman in who had solid games, while Scott Parker`s influence and experience is undroppable. I can`t see Smith starting in this system unless the full back`s get involved in the final third, but I can`t see Magath taking that risk away from home.
I would expect Smith to make an appearance from the bench if Fulham are chasing the game, also along with the youthful injection of Patrick Roberts, who is being tipped for a big future in football. The majority of Fulham`s play is going to be coming through the middle, which will play directly into McCormack`s style, so we need to be aware of that. From a defensive point of view, I wouldn`t be surprised to see an unchanged back four, unless Magath decides to bring in 6`4 Burgess for Bodurov, with the Bulgarian only standing at just under six foot.
Possession style - I know their passing and possession style so far this season may not have paid off in results, but considering they nearly average 60% of possession away from home, this has to be seen as a strength. Our fans, more so than most, will be frustrated if we aren`t seeing too much of the ball and if this frustration transmits to the players, it could all go down hill.
Youthful exuberance - Some may see this as a weakness when a team has a high number of youth players, especially when Fulham are in the position they are in, but can potentially work the other way. The realisation that there is some expectation on these youth players to make the step up, considering the lack of senior players at the club, could bring out the best in the likes of Roberts, David, Demebele and Woodrow - all of whom have big future`s ahead of them.
Shot accuracy - Fulham average a fair amount of shots on goal per game (15), but only four of those on average end up on target, which is clearly a massive downfall for them. Not all of the responsibility can fall on McCormack, which is why I`m quite surprised Magath didn`t invest in another striker apart from Smith.
Aerial duels - As I mentioned, Fulham only win 18.8 aerial duels per game, compared to our 28.4, which is the second highest in the league. The return of 6`7 defender Dan Burn will certainly help Fulham, but his likely centre back partner Bodurov is only 5`10, which is quite short for a defender. If Adkins opts for a strike partnership of Murray and Pogrebnyak, this could cause problems, with both men being three inches taller than him.
Defensive inexperience - The back four likely to play on Saturday will have a joint Championship appearance total of 34 games, with Dan Burn contributing 25 of those. I would have thought bringing in experienced Championship defenders would have been high on Magath`s list, apparently not. While Vosser and Borudov have good experience in Europe, England and the Championship is very different in terms of tempo and intensity - has Magath underestimated the league?
Scott Parker - The Fulham skipper is one of only five players to start every game of the campaign so far and his influence is showing already. The former England international averages 72.8 passes a game, with 1.6 of them being key passes.; it`s Parker`s attitude and experience at the top level that is priceless for the youth that surrounds him.
Going by the above, this poses a few potential dilemmas for the Royals gaffer. Here is the way I would like to see us line-up on Saturday:
Cox, Murray, Pog- who to pick? - With Pog returning to training on Monday and in contention for Saturday`s game, it leaves him, Cox and Murray as the three frontmen - which two will play, if not all three?! We have already highlighted Fulham`s liability from aerial dules, so while it would be logical to stick the 6`2 pairing of Pog and Murray up there, could we potentially be out-numbered in midfield if McCormack drops deep? Cox behind Pog/ Murray would mean we have options in midfield when we don`t have the ball, so Fulham can`t control the game, but without any extra width or runs from a third-man, both will be starved of options.
Match Fulham`s narrow system or exploit the wings? - I can remember when we played Yeovil away last year and Adkins was so concerned about how narrow they were, he subbed McCleary early on for Williams to match them up. That took him by surprise that day, but I think he will half expect it from Fulham, it just depends whether he will match them up (play the diamond 4-1-2-1-2) or stick with his traditional 4-2-3-1, with two wide players. Considering we don`t have any out-and-out wide players fit at the moment, a narrow diamond would make more sense and could also see Taylor in a more comfortable position. However, this would mean most of our play would have to come through the middle and we don`t have any pace to get behind Fulham, so we could find ourselves frustrated, unless Gunter and Obita get into game on the wings.
Press or stand off? - As we have mentioned, Fulham like to keep the ball and while Adkins has stated his previous ambition of wanting his teams to press, we have seen on occasion (Middlesbrough away), he is fairly happy to let the opposition have the ball if he doesn`t feel threatened by them. How aggressive our pressing will be depends on who lines up front for the visitors - if McCormack, Smith or Woodrow start up top, we should OK leaving space in behind, if it`s Rodallega or Roberts, we could liable to stepping up too much and leaving too much ground for Pearce to make up.
Not dropping too deep, too early - One minor and rare criticism I have of Adkins is how we drop too deep, too early in a game, even as early as the hour mark if we are leading. Away from home you can see the logic, but at home, in front of your home fans who are likely to get nervy, it can be very easily punished. While we just about survived it against Ipswich, Smith`s height will cause problems and McCormack`s presence around the area could mean it will be punished.