First things first: hats off to Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. They played their freakin asses off. They were organized, energized, and relentless. Their attacks were heart-pounding. Fulham’s defense was frantic, jumbled, disorganized, and messy.
But, thankfully, adjectives don’t win soccer matches, goals do. And Fulham, thanks to their 3-0 win at home, had more of the goal things.
Quite frankly, if I’m Juande Ramos, my first stop on my way home is a private detective’s office to find out who kidnapped my soccer team during the away leg in London, because the side that played today in the Ukraine looked completely different. I have a very less-panicky take on this match than it may have seemed from watching, so take a read, because there are some important points I’d like to make.
Before I get into this……..breathe……in…..out…..in…..out…..ok that’s better. Haven’t done that for about 70 minutes. Now on to the breakdown.
-Matthew Briggs: Something lost in all this was John Arne Riise’s injury that occured right before Dnipro scored their goal. Let’s hope he’s ok. But it may have been a blessing in disguise, because it brought on Matthew Briggs, and he was one of the saviors of the day. He made countless vital blocks, and his tackling skills are plentiful. He didn’t go in way too hard like many of the midfielders did, rather he stays controlled and collected while trying to wrench the ball from the opponent. I’m excited about his future.
Update: Martin Jol says John Arne Riise could be out for “some time” after suffering a “serious” leg injury. If that’s true, we’ll be seeing a lot more of Briggs not only in Europe but in the Premier League as well.
-Aaron Hughes: My man of the match. Quite frankly, if you pick anyone else you didn’t watch the same match. Hughes was the only defender who consistently beat his man one-on-one every time. And not only that, his clears actually went far and away from the people in blue shirts (*cough*Chris Baird*cough*Brede Hangland*cough*). He is a stud in this Fulham defense. The rock, if you will.
-Damien Duff: The guy hates playing defense, I think that’s obivous after this match. He was frustrated beyond belief. But when given the all-out defend order, whether he likes it or not he did it, and did it pretty well for a winger. And he created the only real Fulham opportunity; with about 10 minutes left, he brought the ball down beautifully, then instead of rushing a shot, he held and waited for help, which he got in Kasami. The kid horribly missed the target, but Duff’s lay off was about as perfect as you can get on that disasterous pitch.
-Chris Baird: I think Baird knows just as well as we do that this match was his one shot at impressing Martin Jol before he’s potentially sold. He actually got better in the last 15 minutes or so when the pressure was absolutely pouring on, but before that he was dreadful. His clears went nowhere, his crosses were dreadful, he was constantly out of position, and he was beaten one-on-one multiple times. I’m not sure who’s more disappointed in his performance, Baird himself, or the fans (like me) who were begging Jol to play him.
To be honest, that’s all that was truly bad to me. Sure, you can point to the possession (which actually ended up 56-44 surprisingly; it was 69-31 with about 8 minutes left to play). Sure, you can point to the many misses by Dnipro. But when you play all-out defense, you don’t want possession, you just want to spoil as many opponent’s chances as you can, and they sure did just that. Sidwell played surprisingly good defense, and so did Etuhu, Dempsey, and the rest of the midfield (when not lunging in to challenge). The defense itself, save Baird, was spotty but held strong when in dire straits.
You can point to how many times the club gave away the ball, and it was pretty frustrating, but I really think it’s because they weren’t really concentrating on keeping possession. If they got it, sure. But they completed the task they were given after the surprisingly strong start and goal by Dnipro. I’m content, and we’ll move on from here.
I need a nap.