Fulham near crisis point after defeat against Swansea… and here are the key issues Jol and Co need to resolve in the New Year
22:38 GMT, 30 December 2012
Among some rather vague comments about Dimitar Berbatov’s best position and Fulham’s January shopping policy, Martin Jol was adamant of one thing on Saturday evening.
Fulham’s performance in the 2-1 defeat against Swansea was, he said, their best for two months. It must have been a cold winter for some supporters.
Jol’s team are now 14th in the Barclays Premier League and only four points clear of the bottom three. Their last win was five games ago; prior to that they had been winless in seven. A drama is fast becoming a crisis and, worryingly, there are numerous issues to resolve.
Cold winter: Martin Jol claimed that the 2-1 defeat to Swansea was Fulham's best performance in two months
Unlucky: Fulham were beaten 2-1 at home by Swansea
LOVERS AND FIGHTERS
Jol highlighted one of Fulham’s key issues ahead of the Liverpool defeat earlier this month when he said his side had ‘too many lovers, not enough fighters’.
Those comments came after a 2-1 defeat against QPR in which his side won nine tackles (their average at the time was 17) and their tally for the season is 259 – better than only Everton and Reading.
There is much to love about the way Fulham play, especially flair players like Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz, but, Steve Sidwell and the injured Mohamadou Diarra aside, there is no great physical presence in midfield.
Left-back Matthew Briggs, making his second league start of the season, lost a 50-50 against 5ft 5in Nathan Dyer on Saturday, which told its own story.
OLD LEGS AND TOO MUCH TINKERING
Fulham have the division’s oldest squad with an average age of 27.72 years and that might explain their propensity for niggly injuries and, also, why their attacks occasionally lack zip.
Their squad is loaded with guile but, in the absence of real pace, they sometimes lack an extra dimension, which makes them easier to defend against. Earlier in the season they had one of the most prolific attacks, and yet they have scored only five in their past eight games.
Tactically, Jol has been restricted by injuries and the departures of important players like Moussa Dembele, Clint Dempsey and Danny Murphy.
With them he hoped to play a dynamic 4-3-3, but since they left, and because of injuries, he has been forced to revert to 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 systems that he favours less.
Departure: Jol saw the likes of Mousa Dembele leave for pastures new
Flying the nest: Clint Dempsey (left) followed Dembele to Tottenham
Me too: Jol let Danny Murphy (left) leave for Blackburn
Jol said: ‘In May we had Murphy, Dembele and Dempsey in midfield. After that we had Diarra, Sidwell and Ruiz. Last week I played with Kieran Richardson, Giorgios (Karagounis) and Chris Baird… we cannot play in our formation the last three months.’
There is no denying the fine job Jol has done while overhauling the teams of Roy Hodgson and Mark Hughes – only three of the 18-man squad that faced Swansea were involved in the 2010 Europa League final – but he seems unsure of what his best XI is. Indeed, he has retained the same players for consecutive games only once this season and on Saturday there were six changes.
AWAY DAY MISERY
The never-ending issue. Of their 11 completed Premier League seasons, they have never won more than five games on the road in a campaign (2003-04) and averaged three.
They have done so only once this so far season, when they beat Wigan 2-1.
Jol admitted on Saturday that reinforcements are needed. Sportsmail understands he will enter the January market with a 10million budget and wants a goalkeeper, defender and midfielder.
Jol said: 'I have the chairman’s number and if I need something I give him a phone call. So I gave him a phone call.
'Sometimes he gives me a call. I feel if everyone is fit we are good enough, but there are a few players who are a bit older, a bit injury prone, so we have to try to do something.'
Woeful: David Stockdale made an error for Swansea's second goal
Beneficiary: Jonathan De Guzman pounced to score the decisive goal
On the back of Saturday’s showing, the goalkeeper search will take on added importance. Second-choice keeper David Stockdale had a shocker and the second goal was a ‘Christmas gift’ to Swansea, according to Jol.
Regular stopper Mark Schwarzer, 40, was out with a neck injury, but after years of impressive performances he is having a relatively poor season behind a leaky defence (only five teams have conceded more than Fulham’s 36).
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
Bryan Ruiz. He missed six games with injury, but on his first start since November 18 he was Swansea manager Michael Laudrup’s man of the match.
His partnership with Berbatov is lovely to watch and can be extremely effective with the right support.
‘He was one of our best players so I’m very happy that he’s back to his old level and that he’s pulling the strings,’ Jol said.
When fit, Ruiz has the ability to get Fulham scoring again and the points should follow.
Every cloud… Bryan Ruiz (left) has dazzled behind the frontman this season