Rene's Fulham get back to basics

Tuesday 10th December 2013 14:38

Rene Meulensteen: Back to basics approach

Rene Meulensteen: Back to basics approach

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Fulham FanZoner Andy Lye hails Rene Meulensteen's back to basics approach after the Cottagers' Premier League victory over Aston Villa.

What a difference a week makes. Obviously we don't know much yet about Rene Meulensteen's methods on the training pitch, but it hasn't taken any unimaginable master-strokes to re-shape our team into something which works.

His aim was to get the basics right first, and he's done just that.

Lauded for making several changes against Tottenham, what Rene really did in team selection terms was do the things most of us have been saying should be done for months - drop Bryan Ruiz, play with two proper wingers, and put someone who works hard behind Dimitar Berbatov. That way our favourite Bulgarian strop will actually get some service and support, then we'll see whether or not he can be bothered to do what we need him to do this season or not.

We needed our basic shape back, and it worked immediately. With Alex Kacaniklic and Ashkan Dejagah on the wings and Pajtim Kasami in the number ten role, Berbatov was provided with no less than four great chances against Spurs last Wednesday. Problem was, he missed all of them; two via great saves from Hugo Lloris, and two by just being too casual and not concentrating hard enough on his finishing.

But the shape was there, the heart was there, and when Berbatov put Dejagah through for his brilliant opener, there's a big hint the goals are there too. Have we ever come away happier in defeat than most fans did on Wednesday?

His decision therefore to replace Kasami, who in truth hasn't had a really good game for a few weeks now despite his energy and effort, with Steve Sidwell against Aston Villa on Sunday seemed odd. Especially as it meant we had three central midfielders on the pitch at the same time, with Sidwell and Giorgos Karagounis taking turns to play at number ten while Scott Parker held down the defensive role.

But it worked well, not so much because it was a great idea, but because of the industry and application of those three players. Match reports have heaped praise on Berbatov for being involved in nearly every attack we put together, but it was that midfield trio, who particularly in the second half made more really fantastic tackles (none of which have made it into the highlights reels) than most teams will make in weeks, that were really instrumental for us.

They worked brilliantly together, always covering each other and picking up the loose balls after one of the others had made a challenge, but also put in all of the running required of them, getting involved in defence and attack.

And that's the biggest difference Meulensteen has made. For now at least, everyone's trying harder. Berbatov especially, but others too are putting more into the games than they were under Martin Jol. Rene's even been able to bring John Arne Riise back in from the cold, and what an improvement that's been.

I liked Kieran Richardson at left-back, but just recently he's been lacking both defensively and in attack. Riise, whether it's to force his way back into the regular starting 11, or to put himself in the shop window in January, covered both parts of the game well in both games this week, so while he continues to do the same, that's another success for Rene. As hopefully putting Darren Bent and Adel Taarabt on personal training programmes to get fitter will be too.

In general he seems to have given the players more belief in going forward, pushing up higher when in possession and not leaving one or two attacking players stranded. If he can keep the intensity up so that we don't end up dropping off and inviting teams onto us like we did against Spurs, we should be fine on enough occasions to get out of trouble, just like Sunday.

Yes, the Kacaniklic penalty was soft, and yes Gabriel Agbonlahor should have had a spot-kick as well, but we've been out of luck for so long it's about time something went our way. Especially given Mike Dean's utterly appalling performance all game as players like Chris Herd, who had to be taken off before he was sent off, started making a fool of him by getting more and more audacious with their fouls, which he kept letting go.

All this is not to say we're now looking good for results away at Everton or at home to City, those are still very difficult games, but after Christmas we've got a vital run of four games that we need to get points from, because as expected this current period where most of the teams around us are playing each other has seen at least half of our immediate rivals pick up wins.

Norwich away on Boxing Day (the very idea of which should be scrapped in my view) should be seen as a winnable game. Hull away two days later might be tricky, but back-to-back home games against West Ham and Sunderland to start the New Year are both that cliched thing, the "six-pointer". Best case we come out of that run with 10 points, but at worst we have to win those two home games.

That would at least take us into the horrible four-week period which follows, with five tough games, on a more respectable points total and with a bit of confidence.

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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