Meulensteen making presence felt

Tuesday 26th November 2013 16:03

Rene Meulensteen (left): New head coach is re-emphasising the basics

Rene Meulensteen (left): New head coach is re-emphasising the basics

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Fulham FanZoner Andy Lye gives his take on the Cottagers' 2-1 defeat to Swansea and the influence of new head coach Rene Meulensteen.

I'm sure all managers have a substitutions plan ahead of every game. Whether that be to rest, or not risk injury to, a key player ahead of another upcoming game, give game time to a fringe or youth player, or ease a player returning from injury back into first-team action, changes are likely laid out on a loose timetable pre-game.

That is, or should be, on the proviso that the game is going according to plan. But Martin Jol, like Roy Hodgson before him, seems incapable of selecting appropriate alternative substitutions on-the-fly if the game is going differently to what he had hoped.

On Saturday against Swansea, on the stroke of 60 minutes, after we'd just equalised and needed to keep up the attacking pressure in our hunt for a second goal, Jol pointlessly hauled off Derek Boateng, who apart from a couple of possession mistakes had been doing a fine job behind Scott Parker (quite rightly made captain in Brede Hangeland's absence), and replaced him with Steve Sidwell.

Sid did little wrong when he came on too, but it was a waste of a substitution, giving us nothing we didn't already have on the pitch. What we needed at that point was fresh legs (and more capable legs than the appalling Bryan Ruiz) to keep attacking.

With a bench bursting with wingers (and young striker Moussa Dembele, who everyone is desperate to see in action), we actually had that extra attacking capability in reserve, but somehow he waited another 17 minutes to introduce Alex Kacaniklic, and another nine minutes after that to use Adel Taarabt, needlessly replacing man of the match Parker.

Inevitably, Taarabt achieved more in his eight minutes on the field than Ruiz had done in 77, and had the change fans were calling for, Taarabt for Ruiz, been made at half time when it should have been, the game could have turned out very differently, once again highlighting how Jol's favouritism and stubbornness are our undoing.

Up until Aaron Hughes' unlucky own goal, we hadn't actually looked too bad. Our new head coach, Rene Meulensteen, had used the best part of two weeks with our non-international players to re-emphasise the basics, and an improved level of basic football was evident, even if Ruiz's constant sacrificing of possession broke down many of our moves.

We had more attacking intent than in previous weeks, created more chances than we have done in whole games before now, and players like Dimitar Berbatov and Darren Bent were getting much more involved than they have been.

There were also rumours that Meulensteen had in fact picked the team for this game, which explained the widely welcomed dropping of Calamity Senderos, and the attack-minded line-up which moved Parker's generally flawless passing further up the field in a kind of 4-1-1-2-2 formation.

Maybe he didn't feel confident enough in his assessments to also drop Bryan Ruiz, having barely seen him due to international duty with Costa Rica, or maybe he simply wasn't allowed to leave him out, but his willingness to get so quickly involved and take some of the key decisions away from Jol when offered is encouraging. Although I'd like to believe the substitution choices were not his.

This follows his comment upon arrival two weeks ago that Jol wants to "take a step back". Does he mean simply from the exertions of the training field, or other areas of management as well? It would be very interesting to see what approach Meulensteen would take with our squad if he were given complete freedom to do so.

As Berbatov's effort and influence waned after half-time on Saturday, he was a strong candidate to been replaced. Bent also, after three glaring misses, could have made way for Dembele to have a chance. Would Meulensteen take those big decisions that Jol stubbornly refuses to? He doesn't, after all, owe these players any loyalty. He can make purely footballing decisions.

He's also made his presence known at youth team games and training sessions, indicating that he supports the development and possible use of our young players, which is something we need to make clear to our best ones, lest they leave.

I think a lot of fans, judging by the louder-than-ever chanting of "Jol out" around The Cottage, would like to see him have a crack at it. I have the suspicion what we're seeing now is a six-month hand-over period anyway, assuming we get out of a position that doesn't necessitate the immediate sacking of Jol that so many of us would like to see. And it's not like Rene, or a different selection of players, could do any worse anyway. Why not give the idea a trial?

By Andy Lye, FanZone's Fulham blogger. Follow him on Twitter at @jukeboxmetal - and don't forget to follow @FanZone too!

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