Category Archives: Fulham

Leeds United finally show their cutting edge!

A crunch game at the top of the Championship is a good time to start being able to finish off your chances. Well, ideally it’s something that you’d be doing all season. Although with Leeds, it can never be that straightforward.

In the end, however, a match against third place Fulham – key challengers for automatic promotion – towards the end of the season is a pretty good game to start finding that clinical edge.

Patrick Bamford after having a graphic displayed by Sky Sports pre-match highlighting his woes in front of goal compared to Aleksander Mitrovic, cooly slid in Leeds’s opener from the edge of the area in the 10th minute. 

True to form, Marcelo Bielsa decided that despite scoring, Bamford’s all-round game was not good enough and hooked him at half time. Him along with Helder Costa, who provided the assist. 

It felt like a true ‘Bielsa’ moment – valuing the system and team above all else. Subsequently, it worked a treat as Costa’s replacement Ezgjan Alioski grabbed a second on the break.  Just before fellow half time substitute Pablo Hernandez provided a gorgeous pass to set Jack Harrison free for a third. 

The Whites were clinical, incisive and displayed calmness when openings presented themselves. So, after a season of struggling to put away chances, why did Leeds suddenly click in front of goal? 

Leeds have had the most shots per game in the league with 16.3. They’ve also had the most on target with 5.2 per game and the most off target with 7 per game. They’ve even hit the woodwork more times than any other side in the Championship – having struck it 15 times this season. 

Swarming teams, dominating possession (Leeds’s average of 59.7% is the highest in the league) and creating chance after chance yet missing them has become typical for the Whites. 

Yet against Fulham on Saturday, they scored three goals despite having far less shots than their average of 16.2 – only managing 10 attempts. Of these 10 shots, however, half were on target – a far better ratio than their average.

Of these five shots on target, three were scored. It far outstrips their usual shot conversation rate of around 13% for the season. 

The answer to this puzzle is indicated by the possession stats from this game.  

In sharp contrast to most of their matches this season, Leeds only had 43% possession. This meant that they were playing on the break more often than usual, something which can often lead to a higher quality of chance being created.

In most games, the opposition tend to accept that Leeds will dominate the ball and fall back in numbers to defend. Leeds’s excellent possession play and speed with the ball still yields chances in good areas but more often than not the circumstances they are shooting are rather difficult.

Defenders are likely to be snapping at their heels and there will often be bodies to shoot through. Leeds’s players will often only have a split second to get their shot off before a defender comes clattering towards them. 

Against Fulham, Bamford was under no pressure as he stepped up to slot the ball accurately out of Marek Rodak’s reach. For their second, a counter attack left Fulham defenders flailing and off balance.  This provided Alioski time to steady himself before finishing easily into the bottom corner. 

Despite Harrison being under pressure from a defender behind him for Leeds’s third, a higher line than what the Whites usually face gave Hernandez space to pass into for Harrison to have a free run at goal. 

Some of Leeds’s most frustrating defeats have come alongside some of their highest possession statistics. They managed 69% against Cardiff last week, 70% in their 2-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest and a remarkable 77% in their 1-0 loss against Wigan. Losses against teams adept at packing the defence and being able to strike directly and on the counter. 

Ultimately, Fulham – who have the second highest average possession in the Championship with 58.4% – and their tendency to want the ball gave Leeds the opportunities they desired. Opportunities with more space in behind and more time for Leeds’s players to be able to pick their spots.

Analysis of the Championship Run-in

Championship fans up and down the country were today (June 8) given a huge boost of excitement with the EFL announcing the restart schedule released – along with confirmed TV selections.

The journey will continue for Sky Bet Championship clubs with the action kicking off again on Saturday 20 June. They couldn’t have gone for a juicier opening fixture with promotion contenders Fulham & Brentford clashing in front of the Sky cameras for a West London derby.

So with just nine games remaining, who is in the running for promotion and relegation? Let’s break it down and give a final prediction of what could go down starting with the relegation candidates.

We all know what gruelling and outright horrible season the Championship can be for clubs. It is 46 games of tough, physical games of football and we would usually be talking of these remaining nine games as the last hurdle, but truthfully, with the break, everyone has now had, anything could happen. Even more, than it usually does. Seriously, the Championship has become even more unpredictable – let the party begin.

Last term, 44 points renewed Millwall’s Championship status and the year before that, 43 points kept Bolton up. Yet with 27 points still up for grabs, Hull City sit one place out the drop zone on 41 points which makes you realise we could be in for a much higher points total to guarantee safety.

So who are all the teams in the relegation run-in? I suppose this is almost impossible to pinpoint with the dramatic changes this league can produce but all the way up to seventeenth spot we have Stoke City who are just three points adrift. Below them are Huddersfield, Middlesbrough Wigan and Hull. The drop zone meanwhile contains Charlton, Luton, and Barnsley.

Given the number of ridiculous results that the Championship can produce I almost feel it a pointless exercise to start analysing the run-ins that the teams have but some crucial relegation clashes are coming up – one of them being Hull vs Middlesbrough.

The Yorkshire derby (I’m sorry) has been selected for Sky coverage on Thursday 2 July and could play a pivotal part. The Tigers made a terrible gamble in January by selling their dynamic duo of Jared Bowen and Kamil Grosicki to West Ham and West Brom respectively and it’s fair to say it couldn’t have gone worse for them.

At one stage it looked like Hull might be in for a fairly stable season but since Christmas, they have picked up just eleven points from a possible forty-two, including heavy defeats in the last two outings to Leeds and Stoke.

Elsewhere, the pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time for Wigan Athletic who were in the form of their lives and picked up huge wins over the current top two, Leeds and West Brom. It’s a huge fight meanwhile for Barnsley, who, despite some half-decent form themselves, are still bottom of the pile and seven points adrift. Gerhard Struber has not done a bad job with the Yorkshire club but the sheer awfulness of their start to the season before he took charge in November means that it still hasn’t been enough.

Charlton Athletic have been hit with a huge blow, which has been a big talking point ahead of the restart with several players including top scorer Lyle Taylor, refusing to continue. Taylor (30) is out of contract and states his physical health as reasons for not agreeing to a temporary extension as he doesn’t want an injury to prevent him from a move next season.

Even with Taylor’s goals, Charlton are two points deep in the relegation zone and without them, you do wonder where the results are going to come from. Below the Addicks, we have Luton Town who for most of the season have just looked a little bit out of their depth. It would be a shame for Luton to go down as their epic rise, fall and rise again has been a great story. Do they, however, have enough to stay up?

Huddersfield and Stoke may be living life dangerously sitting just three points clear, but the misfortunes of Charlton and Hull I think will keep them safe enough and out of the equation. Huddersfield will, however, have crucial games against Wigan and Luton, meanwhile Stoke will have to fight off tough opposition with three of the top six still to play.

Final Prediction
21: Charlton Athletic (Survived)
22: Hull City (Relegated)
23: Barnsley (Relegated)
24: Luton Town (Relegated)

So on we go to the epic prize that is the Premier League. Once again this is going to be a tough one to predict and it really wouldn’t shock me if a team I mention in this somehow ends up in a relegation scrap. This division is mental, it really is.

With just six points separating sixth and thirteenth – don’t shoot me if I end up getting this horrifically wrong.

I reiterate that form could completely go out the window with the big break that we have had and the run-ins could make no difference whatsoever but nonetheless, we’ll start with the current top two.

Leeds and West Brom have looked the best bets for promotion for a lot of this season and six points currently separates West Brom from Fulham in third with Leeds one point ahead of Albion in first. Both have had their bad spells this season and at one point it seriously looked like both Fulham and Brentford could take up the top two spots.

Before the pandemic, however, Leeds were in tantalising form winning their last five games and conceding no goals in the process. For West Brom, it was a little more up and down drawing away to Swansea and losing at home to Wigan but the Baggies did register big wins over Preston and Bristol City before that.

With Brentford ten points behind West Brom, we have to suggest at this stage that Fulham are the main contenders to challenge the top two.

However, a reminder that Fulham do host Brentford in the first game back and an away win for the Bees could give them a very good argument that they are still in the mix. Thomas Frank’s side will then have to face West Brom immediately afterwards at home so those two games perhaps could give us a good idea?

In that same game week, Leeds will host Fulham in what could also prove to be huge. My word I have missed this barnstormer of a league!

We must also not forget Nottingham Forest who sit level with Brentford in fifth, however, since their big home win over Leeds back in February, the form for Sabri Lamouchi’s men has been very up and down. They were shocked at home to Charlton and since been well beaten in their last game at the hands of Millwall. Forest have been crying out for Premier League football even longer than Leeds but still strike me as a team that is developing under Lamouchi.

There is no doubt that Lamouchi has transformed Forest into a much better side than we have seen over the years and for that reason, in my opinion, it puts him in the running for manager of the year. Should they, however, fall short this season they’d have to be big favourites next year.

Four points behind Forest in sixth we have Preston where thankfully we can now just be talking about who is going to take that spot come July. Not that I should completely disregard Preston ploughing through everyone in nine games and go up as champions but let’s just pretend that isn’t possible. Alex Neil is another manager who has done a tremendous job this season, turning Preston from a mid-table team to a side that is mounting a promotion challenge.

They do, however, face stiff competition from Bristol City, who are just a point behind The Lilywhites, while Millwall and Cardiff are just two points adrift. Oh, but then we have Blackburn, Swansea and Derby who are also very much in contention…I give in, please no one shoot me for this prediction.

To make matters more difficult these are all teams who’s form has been very inconsistent, I mean that’s probably why they are where they are. I do make a strong case for Gary Rowett’s Millwall though, who, since Rowett’s appointment I’ve identified as dark horses for promotion.

Rowett has had a lot of talk about him since his shock departure from Birmingham as to how good a coach he is and it did not go well for him at Stoke. At the time it looked a risky decision to take the managerial role at The Den, given that the previous season Millwall had very narrowly escaped relegation and were sat in seventeenth spot at the time of his appointment.

The Lions though have lost just five league games in his 23 game tenure and with just two points separating them and Preston they do look a good bet. Bristol City meanwhile were in very bad form before lockdown and despite that potentially making no difference anymore, they aren’t a team that has struck me as one that would maintain a spot in the playoffs. I would also say similarly with Guy Mowbray’s Blackburn Rovers, who have been in and around the mix for a while now and for a long time topped the form table, but ultimately I see them coming short.

Swansea and Derby are interesting ones because the Swans were at the top end of the table for a while before Christmas but a bad run of form led to their slip down the table. They are a young footballing side that given time under Steve Cooper, they could be well in the mix next season.

Derby, on the other hand, have had a very eventful season.  The signing of Wayne Rooney in January to the sacking of captain Richard Keogh. Focusing on the football, they’re a team that has tried to play out from the back under Phillip Cocu but just haven’t done it that well. Their fortunes have however recently changed and the results have started to come, which has led to them being back in the mix but I think it will be too little too late for them.

Final Prediction
1: Leeds (Promoted)
2: West Brom (Promoted)
3: Fulham
4: Brentford (Promoted via Playoffs)
5: Nottingham Forest
6: Millwall

Joe Lolley’s Forest require penalties to see off eight-man Mansfield to reach the EFL Football Manager Quarter-Finals

The last 16 of the Virtual EFL Football Manager Cup certainly delivered up its fair share of drama this past week.

The round featured a classic Championship versus League Two tie between Nottingham Forest and Mansfield Town. Following the game virtual manager Joe Lolley said:

“Well if that’s not repeated on sky sports classics for the next 20 years there is no justice.”

Indeed, Lolley’s Nottingham Forest side had to overcome the spirited effort from Jamie King’s Mansfield Town. The League Two side went ahead twice but their discipline certainly proved problematic as the match ended in a 2-2 draw.

In extra time Forest had as many as three goals ruled out before ultimately coming through on penalties against FM content creator King’s troops.

A remarkable hat-trick from Birmingham City’s centre back Harlee Dean meanwhile saw the Lee Camp’s blues progress to the last eight at the expense of Luton Town in another thrilling 3-2 Championship clash.

Following his side’s victory, virtual manager Camp said:

“We took the game to them, took the lead like we did last week and controlled the game.  They had a couple of moments but it’s cup football and you expect the opposition to come out and ask you questions but overall I thought we managed the game very well.”

Elsewhere, Brentford and Preston North End emerged victorious from their respective local derby matches against Queens Park Rangers and Blackburn Rovers.

Sam Jaques’s Brentford side ultimately emerged with a 3-1 victory over their fellow Londoners, while Tom Barkhuizen rounded off Preston’s 2-0 victory over their Lancashire rivals.

There were also wins for Fulham, Huddersfield Town, Swansea City and Middlesborough  who complete the line up for the last eight.

Who do you fancy to go all the way?

Don’t forget that throughout the tournament you can donate on the JustGive page to Mind UK. #haveyourmatesback.

https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/TheEFLFootballManagerCup

The Battle for Premiership Survival!

The fight for Premiership survival has entered the business end of the season, and each game is slowly becoming increasingly more crucial for the teams fighting to avoid the drop.

With just 7 games to go, it looks beyond possible for both Huddersfield and Fulham to escape relegation.

Huddersfield have a mere 14 points and Fulham just 3 more than that. It looks impossible for them to catch up with Burnley who currently sit 17th with 30 points on the board.

Even if Huddersfield and Fulham were to win all of their remaining games, they would still only sit on 35 and 38 points respectively, which even then leaves both teams looking at relegation.

A Burnley win this weekend would bring the Lancashire-based side up to 33 points, virtually dooming the bottom two clubs, Huddersfield and Fulham, to the drop.

Cardiff still have a fighting chance of staying up, but their inconsistency this season means they find themselves in the relegation zone, but the current form table paints a hopeful story for the Welsh team.  Cardiff sit 12th based on recent form, having had 3 wins in their last 6 games.

Talking of 12th, looking at the present standings in the Premiership, that position is occupied by Bournemouth on 38 points, just 2 points away from the safety margin of 40 points.

When you look at the current form, then it makes dodgy reading for the Cherries, because with 1 win in the last 6, they currently sit 3rd bottom, suggesting that although they appear safe, there is still work to do.

In terms of consistency, Burnley find themselves in the same position in the current form guide as they do actual position, but you would back the clarets to find form at the right time, as seems to happen with them most years under Dyche.

Either way, it appears most clubs are entering the infamous ‘squeaky bum time’ of the season, and if you were a betting man, then you would probably get good odds on betting against the current bottom 3 being the ones to make the drop.

Brexit: How will it affect the Premier League?

It comes without surprise that all 20 of the current Premier League clubs were against Brexit in the first place. With Britain set to leave the EU on March 29th, and a ‘no deal’ Brexit looming closer by the minute, what will happen to The Premier League and English football in the future? 

 

The first likely outcome of Brexit on English football is the restriction on the movement of players from Europe to the UK, and vice versa. Players will most likely have to acquire work permits when transferring from The UK to Europe. It is estimated that only 60% of all players in the top flight are UK nationals, so there is major potential of future issues within the league. The clarity of movements in the transfer market may be completely hindered, with it being harder for Premier League clubs to sign European talent, and harder for players with UK citizenship to move to European clubs. Furthermore, with the Champions League quarter finals set to take place just two weeks after the March deadline, and four out of eight teams being from the UK, how will the final three stages pan out?

 

Another potential issue Brexit may reveal regards the 1995 Bosman ruling. The Bosman ruling has made a vital development to football around Europe, allowing players to act as free agents once their contract with the club has expired. The ruling came after three separate legal cases between Jean-Marc Bosman and UEFA, The Belgian FA and Bosman’s club at the time – Royal Football Club De Liege. Bosman won his case at The European Court of Justice in 1995. With the UK departing European jurisdiction, and it no longer being a requirement to follow EU law, UK players could potentially be at risk from a lack of free movement. 

 

The FA has already made a pre-Brexit statement regarding all teams in the Football Leagues. Back in November, they stated that every roster must consist of a minimum of 12 players from a UK background. This could have a positive and negative effect on the league; forcing managers to train with a more ‘British’ based team, leading to further player development and possibly lead to a stronger English, Welsh and Scottish national teams. However, it could lead to a lack of European talent in Premier League teams. Talented players such as Van Dijk, De Bruyne, Sane and Hazard may aim to look at joining major clubs in Europe, to mitigate against the uncertainty that Brexit may bring. Premier League scouts will most likely put their focus on British talent, and the number of European players brought to the top flight could be dramatically reduced. Furthermore, more pressure may be weighted on football academies, as there is an increased need for young English talent. This would lead to the increased development of young English players, the likes of Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Callum Hodson-Odoi all generated their success through excelling in their respected football academies. Could Brexit result in a breakthrough for unseen flair?

 

The main question on everyone’s mind is “Can Britain beat Brexit?” Although the outcomes still remain indistinct, it is clear that it could be rough. Lets just hope that it doesn’t tarnish our league and restrict the luminous football we are all so familiar with.