Scott Parker’s Fulham side were looking for their third win in a row when they came up against Lee Bowyer’s Charlton Athletic, who were looking to also maintain what had been an impressive start to the 2019/20 EFL Championship. Fulham had impressed so far this season, with some great attacking football on offer, however, in key moments have lacked the key ruthless edge which could take them to the next level. As for the Addicks, an impressive start has slowly started to deteriorate after four defeats in five games. An interesting clash between the two London clubs was on the horizon.
The hype did not disappoint as a high packed 2-2 draw saw Charlton take the lead twice and Fulham making the comeback. Charlton defended extremely well against a Fulham side lit up with attacking ammunition and were able to be ruthless in front of goal. Fulham will be disappointed not to have picked up the three points, and once again lacked the ruthless edge to take them into the automatic promotion spots. This tactical analysis will look at the game itself and how both teams approached it to try and win. In particular, the tactics of both teams will be highlighted, with emphasis on player performances.
In terms of the Lineups, Fulham started with their traditional 4-3-3 formation. Marcus Bettinelli started between the sticks, with Alfie Mawson and Tim Ream as the two starting centre backs. Joe Bryan and Steven Sessegnon were the two full-backs on the day, with the direct intention of providing attacking support to the forward players. Harry Arter sat in front of the back four to provide defensive stability. Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen were the more advanced midfielders. They intended to provide creativity for the forward three. In terms of the front three, Ivan Cavalero and Anthony Knockaert were the two wide players, who looked to provide width for the lone striker in Aleksandar Mitrović.
As for Charlton, they lined up in a 3-4-1-2 formation. Dillon Phillips started in goal, with the back three consisting of Naby Sarr, Jason Pearce and Tom Lockyer. Jake Forster-Caskey and Chris Solly were the two wing-backs, who would both play an important role in the chance creation and attacking play that Charlton had. Darren Pratley and Josh Cullen were the two holding midfielders, their role was to provide defensive stability and get forward whenever possible. Conor Gallagher was the attacking midfielder, who was floating in various positions. In front of him were Jonathan Williams, and Macauley Bonne the two main strikers on the day.
One of the main reasons as to why Charlton were able to get so much joy in this game was through the excellent performance from Conor Gallagher. In this game against Fulham, Gallagher was able to find space in key areas of the pitch, which allowed him to be a threat towards the Fulham goal. Furthermore, this ability to find space in key areas was a tactical usage of Gallagher’s technical ability. With four goals and one assist thus far, the 19-year-old has impressed this season.
Playing in a central position behind the two strikers also means he can free roam into different positions across the pitch to create chances on goal. In this game, being in the box was key as it meant he was able to get on the end of second balls to shoot on goal. The system Charlton played also allowed him to get into these positions more regularly, as he was well protected by the defensive midfielders and the back three. In the image below, we can see the build-up for the first goal to put Charlton 0-1 up. Gallagher gets into a great position and the ball can get to him to slot home. This all comes through his excellent positioning and allows him to score.
This pattern was seen throughout the game, as Gallagher was proving a real handful for the Fulham defence in these central positions. In the image below, he is at the edge of the box just waiting for the pullback to score. This was a real asset for Charlton as the Fulham defenders were unaware as to who to pick up when in defensive transitions.
The system Charlton operated in also helped Gallagher to do this, as he could operate in these positions whilst he was protected by his defensive midfielders. Gallagher was, therefore, key to the beneficial parts of the Charlton performance, and going forward by operating him in this way could bring Lee Bowyer huge success when it comes to creating chances and scoring goals.
Another key reason as to why Charlton were successful in large aspects of the game was due to their excellent defensive shape which they managed to maintain in large spells of the match. By setting up with a three at the back, it meant that Charlton constantly had bodies behind the ball which denied Fulham spaces in key areas to hurt them. This was key to stop the likes of Cairney influencing the game.
Scott Parker values his Fulham side in creative and attacking possession-based football, so for Charlton to stop them from doing so was impressive, to say the least. When playing with a three at the back based system, it is often the case that the wing-backs will drop back in to make a back five. This was evident on the day for Charlton, as they would often drop into shape to prevent the wider players getting opportunities to attack. Credit must be attributed mainly to the three central defenders in Sarr, Pearce, and Lockyer. Throughout the game, they managed to keep a solid defensive structure and during defensive transitions which often occurred in this end to end game.
This was key to Charlton being able to keep Fulham at bay for most of the game barring the two goals conceded. The three at the back is a system that is working for them, and for them to continue their early success sticking to this may be key. Below, we can see this in action during the game, during the second half, in particular, keeping their shape as in this image was key. The back five were in excellent positions, which denied Fulham a clear avenue on goal.
As mentioned, Charlton were able to maintain this shape throughout most of the game. The back three were essential for this, as they were the rock that prevented Fulham from getting in on goal. Fulham played with a 4-3-3 which meant that they were often in behind using the likes of Ivan Cavalero and Anthony Knockaert. Having the three centre backs of Charlton in excellent defensive form meant they rarely got in behind, and there was always extra cover if one was out of position.
Below we can see a moment whereby Fulham were moving forward with the ball, and all three of the centre-backs are in excellent positions to prevent any further attacking transitions. This is a credit to the tactical organisation put in place by Charlton to prevent such attacks happening.
Alexsandar Mitrović is one of the league’s most clinical forwards and provides Fulham with an excellent striking option. Thus far he has 8 goals in the Championship and has been excellent in the majority of games he has played in. In this game vs Charlton, he not only scored but provided Fulham with an occupying force against a rigid opposing backline. Mitrovic was a constant nuisance for the Charlton defence and his ability to drag defenders out of position to allow others into play was second to none.
Since Charlton operated in a back three, it was up to him to make sure that they were not comfortable in defensive transitions. Mitrović was always on the shoulder of one of the three centre-halves in crossing situations, which always meant Fulham had an option to put crosses into the Serbian. In the image below we can see Mitrović in a great position in the centre of the box so a cross can come in and he can use his physical presence to head towards goal. This leads to the equaliser by Fulham and once again highlights his role in Scott Parker’s system.
Furthermore, Mitrović’s role when he was not directly in contact with the ball was also vital. His positioning was also key in allowing other attacking players to move forward with the ball. Being a focal point for Fulham meant that he was able to get into central positions, which allowed wider players to come inside more often. This is another key aspect of Mitrovic’s game – bringing others into the game, as well as being a constant threat to the opposition with the ball.
Below, we can see the build-up for Fulham’s first goal to make it 1-1, whereby Cavalero can make an excellent run inside to pick up the ball and have a clean strike on goal to level the game. The key aspect of this, however, is the role of Mitrović in occupying the central defenders so they cannot get there in time to stop the shot on goal. This once again highlights the excellent role that Mitrović played in Fulham’s attacking play.
Fulham’s central midfield
Another interesting development was the role of Fulham’s central midfielders. Whilst Harry Arter was sat between the two centre-backs, the role of Cairney and Johansen was to get into the box and create chances. This is something that both are very capable of doing and Scott Parker attempted to use this to their advantage. Tom Cairney would often make darting runs into the Charlton penalty area with the attempt of being another hub of creating goal opportunities. His stature and physical qualities make him an excellent individual to use in this tactic.
The reason behind this was to prevent Mitrović from getting isolated, which could have happened due to Charlton deploying a three at the back based system. This came to good effect especially in the second half, whereby Cairney was heavily involved in good attacking moves that Fulham were able to put together. In the image below we can see him making an advanced run past Mitrović and the Charlton defenders to get into the box and have a clear strike on goal. This was most certainly used as a tactic by Scott Parker to get bodies forward in search of a second goal.
As mentioned earlier, this came to great effect when Fulham were hunting the second goal. Cairney almost acted as a second striker when they went direct, once again due to his excellent aerial ability and desire to get into the box. In the image below we can see the build-up to the second goal. Cairney makes an excellent run into the box and forces a great save from the keeper which is rounded off by Mitrović. However, the key reasoning for this goal was the initial run from Cairney through the lines of the Charlton defensive line. This once again highlights why Cairney is crucial in this role, as he can offer another dimension of attacking play.
To conclude, this was an interesting match in which both teams could have won. Fulham will be disappointed they were unable to make the final ball count and will be hoping they can fix this issue in future games. Charlton should be proud of their performance, especially in the defensive aspect where they were so strong. This analysis has attempted to highlight were both teams went wrong and did well and how they can improve going forward.
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