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Inside FutbolInside Futbol


Fulham v West Ham: Players Suiting a System and Style

In another in our Coaching Diaries series, respected young coach Anthony Hudson analyses matches and training methods, reporting on his experiences and observations of the professional game. Anthony became the youngest professional football manager in the United States when taking Second Division side Real Maryland FC to the 2009 Playoffs and was nominated for Coach of the Year at just 27 years old. He has written for several coaching publications, holds a UEFA ‘A’ License (English FA) and is currently spending time at Tottenham Hotspur under the watchful eye of Harry Redknapp.

Here Anthony, who was present as Fulham entertained West Ham on Boxing Day in the Premier League, analyses the game with specific attention given to players and their suitability for a side’s system and style:

English Premier League
Fulham vs West Ham

26th December, 2010
12pm Kick-Off
Craven Cottage
Every coach has a philosophy about the way they want their teams to play. With some it’s very evident to see their style and to see that every player has a clear idea of their roles, both with and without the ball. Then there are teams that just go out and play ‘off the cuff’, and they are clear to see too. A manager that I have a huge amount of admiration for, and have not one shred of doubt in my mind that he’ll do great things at Liverpool (if given time), is Roy Hodgson. I have always wanted to go and see how he works. So many top players in the game speak very highly of him. And he is a perfect example of someone that sends his team out on the pitch under no illusions of what they are supposed to do.

Watching the first 30 minutes of yesterday’s game, for me there was only going to be one winner, and how wrong was I?

Fulham are a good team and Mark Hughes is a top manager. They played some great football early on and controlled the game, although struggled to create any real chances apart from the early goal. They play with a certain style, and I still see plenty of Roy Hodgson stamped all over it. That’s not a bad thing. I won’t go into a full match report, but I would like to take this game and pose some questions about having a style of play, it suiting the players at a manager’s disposal and can it be tweaked ever so slightly?


Fulham (White):

1. Schwarzer 4. Pantsil 18. Hughes
5. Hangeland 3. Salcido 29. Davies
20. Etuhu 13. Murphy (captain) 23. Dempsey
8. Johnson 11. Gera
Manager – Mark Hughes

West Ham (Claret):

1. Green 3. B Haim 5. Tomkins
15. Upson 4. Gabbidon 19. Sears
14. Kovac 8. Parker (captain) 25. Stansilas
30. Piquionne 9. Cole
Manager – Avram Grant

Fulham – With the Ball

Fulham are great to watch as they play good football. On Boxing Day, they did everything right until they got to the final third. There were plenty of long range efforts and crosses, but no real threat to West Ham’s goal. I felt there were plenty of opportunities for maybe just one more pass, sliding someone in on goal, setting someone else up in a better position for a shot, a little patience or more quality on the cross. For me, the game should and could have been put to bed in the first half.

From the back Fulham look to play out, through the middle, the wide players come in off the line, full backs push on (just Carlos Salcido in this case), the defender on the ball looks to play one of the centre midfielders, wide men or forwards dropping in. They always have an ‘out’ in Andrew Johnson who makes some great runs in behind. West Ham were completely overrun in the midfield and Johnson and Zoltan Gera found themselves picking up the ball in a lot of space in some dangerous areas; this is why:

No.5 Brede Hangeland on the Ball (many options): Clint Dempsey No.23 and Davies No.29 both come in off the line, in behind and between the centre and wide midfielders. Who picks them up? Full backs’ job, but do they want to get pulled into those areas? Also Salcido gets up high, who picks him up? Dickson Etuhu No.13 and Danny Murphy No.20 drop to get the ball. Two opposition midfielders must go and press, but are concerned about players over their shoulder? Problem; either go and leave space for Simon Davies, Dempsey and Gera (No.11) to get the ball, or stay, screen them, but then allow Etuhu and Murphy to pick the ball up in space and do what they want.

Who is our best crosser and how can we get them in crossing positions?

Like some of the top teams in the world today, a team’s ‘width’ and service into the box come from their full backs. Dani Alves, Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines and Patrice Evra are just few names that are responsible for providing this outlet and they do a fantastic job.

Yesterday, the person who got into more crossing positions than anyone was the left back, Salcido. And for the amount of chances he had, I’m sure players attacking the box would have been disappointed by the quality of service from out wide. If the full back is getting that much space in some great positions in the final third and not making the most of it, maybe someone else could be utilised in that area. Could a player like Damien Duff (who recently played there against Chelsea) starting slightly deeper, be more productive if this situation keeps occurring? If you had a player like Duff in your squad, there’s no question you’d want him in those exact positions that Salcido found himself in – which was all due to the work Fulham did to create that space.

On the other side John Pantsil played very narrow and very rarely got forward. Why? Not comfortable getting forward, not comfortable receiving the ball out wide in space? With him starting deep (more or less in line with his centre backs) and not really creating a lot of space for himself (by getting high and away), what this did was lesson the amount of options the Ghana man had when in possession, made him a little easier to get close to for the opposition (put under pressure), made the area tighter, and forced him to play that ‘out’ ball, long in behind. This is not to take anything away from Davies, who always looks a danger and is very positive out wide on that side.

Pantsil (No.4) Starting Position: West Ham No.25 could screen and cut the 
line off (pass into
Davies). Kept West Ham midfield a little more narrow (harder
to play through). Pass into middle
was under pressure quicker/easier. Forced
to play long/more hopeful pass forward or back. 

Centre backs in space, but what next?

Fulham’s two centre backs find themselves in a lot of space in possession because of their style of play. This was due to West Ham’s midfield not pushing up because of the movement that was going on in behind them (as above). Several times Hangeland and Aaron Hughes had time on the ball to drive forward into space. This causes a problem, as there comes a point when an opposition player has to go to the ball, which leaves someone else free to pass to. A great example of this was in the 65th minute when Hangaland played a great through ball for Johnson who got in on goal. Great pass, but made possible because he had the space to do it – inside West Ham’s half. 

However, do Fulham really make the most of these opportunities that they have created? When this situation arises, what is needed is movement off the ball, especially going forward. A lot of time, the two centre midfielders, Murphy and Etuhu (not always, but most of the time) just stay where they are. And if/when the ball comes to them they are almost in each other’s way. What starts as a real positive position, turns into ‘back to square one’. Maybe when this happens, they know as a team they can really hurt the opposition and with some strong forward runs in between/behind (from Etuhu for example), confidence/positivity on the ball (i.e. ‘get at them’) and Murphy just sitting to add some cover and offer as an option to pass to, Fulham could be a little more dangerous. Too many times the previous happens and ends up with a five-yard pass square into a midfielder, having not gone anywhere.

Centre backs driving forward: West Ham forward dropped in to pick up
when they lost possession (here No.9). Once Hangeland has ball in space,
Etuhu (No.20) could be more dangerous getting forward quicker. Now, West
Ham (No.14) – does he go with the runner, or go to the ball? Either
him or No.19 have to go to the ball. This will create an opening as they
become overloaded. Danny Murphy can just slide over to add
protection if they lose the ball.


There’s nothing better than having leaders in a team and there’s nothing worse than not having any. It is difficult to say watching from the touchline, but when a job is not done, especially defending set pieces or going with runners, it is painful to see no one ‘pin the person down’ and make sure it’s sorted out so it doesn’t happen again. After West Ham’s second goal, which saw Piquonne score, as soon as the ball hit the net, Salcido starts creeping away from the scene and nothing is said. That is the moment when a team-mate is needed to make sure the man responsible knows that they have not done their job and that they will do it the next time. Too many times players get away with these lapses of concentration and are not held accountable.


3-1 win to West Ham

Final Thought

What I say is my opinion and my thoughts on a few areas that I feel could be tweaked to yesterday’s game. Fulham fans may agree/disagree, but hopefully it gives an insight into styles of play, players suiting that style and other ways and opportunities for a team to play. There is also the other side of it, where it is possible to come away from the game thinking ‘it’s fine and only a matter of time before it starts to click’.

On another day, Andrew Johnson’s efforts go in, and it is a completely different game. Now we’re talking a different tune, and about how unbelievable their style of play and performance is… but I have good feeling that Fulham will be okay this season.