Fulham: Why the Cottagers Must Strengthen in Central Midfield
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As Fulham enter their 13th consecutive season in the Premier League, manager Martin Jol has failed so far to address a pressing need to ensure their continued run in the top flight—central midfield.
Despite finishing 12th last season, Fulham were just seven points clear of the relegation zone. Looking ahead to the 2013-14 season, Jol stated explained his transfer plans on the club's official website:
If eight or nine players leave us then we’ll need five or six players. The important thing is that we have to build a new team because we have a big amount of players on loan. I used eight players in central midfield [this season] and that is a lot for a Premier League team.
In the first few months of the transfer window, Jol has made astute signings in acquiring Derek Boateng and Fernando Amorebieta on free transfers. Both have the experience to make an immediate impact.
Additionally, Jol quickly moved to permanently sign Sascha Riether, who impressed last season while on loan from FC Koln. Adel Taarabt also recently passed a medical ahead of a loan move to the London club, providing an attacking threat as an midfielder or winger.
Despite this activity, only Boateng of the new arrivals plays in central midfield.
The central midfielders on Fulham’s roster are Boateng, Steve Sidwell, Pajtim Kasami and Giorgos Karagounis. Kasami is more of an attacking player who has struggled to find his place in the Fulham team since arriving in 2011. Karagounis is decent cover but is 36 years old.
With only the industrious Sidwell and defensive-minded Boateng remaining, Fulham are thin on options in the middle, especially for a team that fielded eight individual players in central midfield in 2012—13.
This lack of depth is particularly troubling when considering the formations that Jol commonly used last season. According to WhoScored, Jol deployed at least two players in central midfield in every game, most often to support a second striker or attacking midfielder.
In addition, 31 per cent of Fulham’s attacks in 2012-13 were generated in the middle of the pitch, the fourth highest total in the league. Consequently, Fulham produced an average of just 19 crosses per game, the second lowest in the Premiership.
Both statistics demonstrate the emphasis Fulham place on playing the ball through the center of the pitch, a tactic dependent on a strong presence in the middle.
Should Jol’s continue with his preferred formation of 2012-13, 4-4-1-1, then starting the season with just four players to choose from is an extremely risky maneuver.
With such few options, Jol will have little ability to vary his tactics in the center depending on the form and fitness of his players or the expected formation of Fulham’s opponents.
Furthermore, Sidwell is an aggressive player whose penchant for firm tackling landed him seven yellow cards and two red cards last season. Suspensions for Sidwell or another midfielder are especially costly given the lack of reserve options available to Fulham.
With less than a month remaining in the transfer window, Jol must move quickly to strengthen his team. Having demonstrated an ability to acquire talented players at bargain prices in the past, Fulham fans must be optimistic that their manager is able to acquire a skillful midfielder or two to round out their side.
Having previously been linked to Walter Gargano, Tom Huddlestone and Scott Parker, Jol has suggested he needs to fill the hole in midfield. Time, however, is running out as the new season draws closer.
With the signing of Taarabt being finalized, Jol must purchase a central midfielder quickly.
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