David Luiz deposited a 35-yard screamer and Mladen Petric cleared Philippe Senderos’s goalbound header off the Chelsea goal line.
That was my reaction after this match. What did I just watch? Turns out that Luiz Zeus-bolt was a harbinger of things going to come, but I had a hard time wrapping my head around the entirety of it.
This was one of the weirder matches of the season. Fulham didn’t play poorly at all. The buildup play was creative – albeit sloppy – and the defending was relatively solid. In addition, Chelsea really didn’t play all that well. They were sluggish (so was Fulham) and they definitely didn’t have a top 5 cutting edge about them.
And yet, here we are, 3-0 losers at home.
Ultimately, Fulham made mistakes (a lot of them) and Chelsea made them pay, and that’s what good teams do. And Chelsea is a very good team.
Eyong Enoh – The best Fulham player on the pitch by a longshot, Enoh was physical, accurate, and looked like he was trying a whole hell of a lot harder than anyone else under Martin Jol’s command. Enoh finished 48/49 passing, 5-for-5 in tackle attempts, and drew 3 fouls while committing 2. The only blemish on his record was a “failed clearance” he somehow got in the attacking half of the pitch on the touchline. I like what I see from the Cameroonian, and I hope Fulham give him a few more chances to prove he’s worth exercising the option to buy on his loan deal.
Bryan Ruiz – Ruiz has been a focal point for discussion between Fulham fans this entire season. He cost a great deal, and hasn’t brought a whole lot of quality to the pitch. Many refuse to give up on him yet, but time is quickly running out on the “he needs to get used to the Premier League” excuse. To be fair, he has 6 assists, second most on the team. Everyone knows he’s ineffective on the wing and a little more effective stuck behind Berbatov. The Costa Rican hasn’t been awful….until last night. Ruiz’s passing was horribly inaccurate, and he displayed a quality his detractors have repeatedly pointed to – a lack of physicality. Ruiz was pushed off the ball numerous times, and other moments he had an opportunity to make a tackle but was simply brushed aside. I’ve made the argument in the past (and I know at least a few agree with me) that Ruiz’s biggest issue on Fulham this season is that he’s the exact same player as Berbatov. A player who uses technical ability and occasional bursts of pace to excel up front and slip into spaces most players wouldn’t dare take on. But with Berba up front already, and obviously not going anywhere, where is Ruiz to go? We’ll have to see what happens in the near future, but Bryan’s flirtations with fans patience is rapidly running out.
Mladen Petric – It was difficult to have a worse game than Ruiz had, but Petric managed to pull it off. It was exciting to see his name back in the lineup after months of being relegated to the bench. He’d shown a bit of an understanding with Berbatov both early in the season and in his few short substitute appearances. However, after an invisible first half, his world came crumbling apart in the second period. The most baffling moment was clearly when he attempted to redirect Philippe Senderos’s header off a corner into the net where he happened to be stationed at the far post. The problem was twofold. One, the header was already clearly goalbound. Two, Petric redirected the ball alright – out of the net and over the top. I must say, it’s quite impressive how Petric managed to get that ball over the top of the bar, but he figured out a way. That completely changed the course of the match. Fulham trailed 2-0 at the time, and a goal would certainly have put pressure on Chelsea that so far had eluded the home side. Instead, Chelsea went down and scored a third minutes later, sealing the match. Petric was off target, lacked any pace whatsoever, and had no connection with his teammates. A player who early on in the season showed the potential to be labeled a steal off the free transfer market now probably falls into the “you get what you pay for” category.
Sascha Riether – I hate to put the German in this category, because he’s had an outstanding season, and because of that certainly gets a pass for a few bad matches. He’s been one of the top 3 right backs in the Premier League. However, after an outstanding cross lifted into the box by Riether in about the third minute (which Ruiz managed to flub completely into a howling miss), the right-back proceeded to have possibly his worst match of the season. Riether had trouble handling passes, and had a poor time defending. He allowed John Terry – one of the best in the league with his head – 5 yards of space about 7 yards from the goal, and Terry made him pay for his first goal of the night to make it 2-0. Sascha picked a bad match to have a stinker too – the club relied heavily on his attacking play with Ruiz having such a tough time on the right wing. Riether’s 48 received passes is his most in a match since he had way too many (70 to be exact) against Manchester City back in January.
Man of the Match – (null) I guess I can give it to Enoh by default, but everyone else was poor/non-existent.
Other observations – So many players on this roster have never been more obviously replacable than they were at Craven Cottage last night. John Arne Riise is no longer the force he was on the left side and has become wildly mediocre. He had acres of space in the box in the closing minutes of the first half and managed a timid outside-of-the-foot “shot” from a player who used to be known as the Riise Rocket. Wasn’t much of a rocket. Urby Emanuelson has shown nothing of value beyond the fact he plays for AC Milan. His strengths don’t translate well to the Premier League, and he can head back to Italy sooner rather than later as far as I’m concerned.
Where to go from here – The hardest part about this match was the exposure of Fulham’s patchwork roster. It’s never been more evident how many holes this squad has. The striker situation is still a mess – Berbatov is the only reliable goalscorer and quite frankly only consistently solid play up front. The midfield outside of Steve Sidwell is a patchwork of loanees and old misfits. The wing is aging and injured. The defense is incredibly old spotty – embarrassing mistakes are rampant and outside of Riether they provide little pressure link-up play in the attack. The club will limp towards the finish-line just fine, but this summer will be unbelievably important to the club’s future. It’s funny because that’s exactly what we all said last summer, and we were stunned with the last-minute results. This summer, the shock departures are officially a thing of the past, and Martin Jol can begin his long-term plan for how to bring this club better results.