Fulham 2021/22: How The Cottagers dominated the Championship – tactical analysis
Fulham were relegated from the Premier League following yet another disappointing campaign last season. A change in management, as well as a slightly updated squad, helped them return to the top division. On their way back up to the top, Fulham blew away their competition. Aleksander Mitrovic scored 43 league goals, breaking the record for the most goals scored in the Championship ever, in a single season. He also broke the record for the most goals ever scored in a 46-game campaign. Fulham also scored 106 goals in the league, becoming only the second side to score over 100 goals in a second division season in the past 20 years, after Manchester City. Fulham overpowered every opponent that stood in the way, as could’ve been expected with a higher weekly wage and squad value than any other team in the league.
This analysis will be presented as a scout report, exploring how Marco Silva turned Fulham into a rampant side. Last time out in the Championship, Fulham only went up through the playoffs. Now, there was no doubt they’d be getting promoted, thanks to the brilliance of the manager and the individual magic of certain players. This tactical analysis will feature the exceptional tactics that allowed Fulham to dominate the league with such ease.
Contrary to what is being spread around the media, Fulham played in a 4-3-3 formation rather than a 4-2-3-1. Fabio Carvalho would sit as the LCM, and Harrison Reed/Tom Cairney were rotated in the RCM position. In the 1st phase, Fulham build in a 4-1 shape. They move the ball around the back four with a lone 6 moving horizontally, to offer a line-breaking pass.
However, that isn’t the main theme. The main objective for Fulham when they build out from the back is to bypass the midfield line. The defenders, usually a full back, look to play the ball to either Mitrovic or a near side winger who drops deep. The centre midfielders make 3rd man runs and collect the ball off the forward players and carry the ball into the space behind the player who just played it. In doing so, Fulham’s players skip the 2nd phase and try to play quickly, not allowing the opposition to regroup.
In the Championship, Fulham have found it quite easy to build play from the back, with a 13.85 PPDA against them, meaning that they pull off roughly 14 passes before an opposing team makes a defensive duel. This is a high number, due to the lack of willingness from some teams in the league to press them, offering them lots of time on the ball to complete passes. Although the Fulham players do well to progress play, they are limited technically, and when they come up against more intense teams they have struggled to retain the ball.
The final third is where Fulham thrive. Marco Silva has managed to integrate a fantastic positional play system which has given Fulham a variety of ways to attack the box and score goals.
One way in which this has been achieved is through the use of wide combinations to get into great crossing positions. The use of triangles between the winger, full-back and central midfielder help The Cottagers keep and progress the ball in wide areas in the final third. Fulham have great technical players such as Harry Wilson, Neco Williams and Fabio Carvalho who are all comfortable on the ball and good enough to combine in tight spaces and have been coached certain patterns of play in those areas to get the ball to a free player in the box.
These Fulham players also understand and know when to make overlapping/underlapping runs. Silva has improved the decision making of players so they understand which areas of the pitch should be attacked and when. When the ball is with the wide player, the player in the half-spaces understands the movement required to create attract a defender and attack the space behind with underlapping runs. Great physical outlets like Antonee Robinson also understand and excel at creating overlapping runs when they are 2v1 against a full back.
Fulham also utilise the deep crossing ability of Williams and Wilson to deliver the ball into the back post from slightly deeper, when other options are limited. Mitrovic is always at the back post and, due to his size and physicality, usually wins headers where he can either head it back across goal or score the header himself.
When up against a sturdier defence, Fulham also have great passers in deeper areas who can split defences open with longer-ranged or more incisive passes. Jean Michael Seri has brilliant vision and so he is able to perfectly execute lofted passes over the top of the opposition defence, even if there is not much space in behind. Seri also has the ability to pick out a reverse pass because of his vision, and the excellent movement of the forward players. Another player with a good passing range is Tosin Adarabioyo, who has the ability to play a pass over the top from deep into the space behind a high line. He can also play a line-breaking pass into the final third from his centre-back position.
Out of possession
When they don’t have the ball, Fulham attempt to press high in a 4-4-2 when they can. Carvalho plays slightly behind Mitrovic, so he can help him with the press. Fulham ensure that every player in the opposition’s build-up phase is being marked man to man, apart from the far side full-back, which forces them to go long. The press is aggressive and compact so it is tough although not impossible, if the players have the quality to play quick, one-touch football, to pass the ball through Fulham.
Carvalho pushes further up than Reed due to his lesser physical and defensive qualities, which also allows Carvalho to be closer to goal when they win the ball back.
Fulham drop into a mid-block when a team has progressed the play past the first third. They move into a 4-1-4-1 formation where the central midfield is compact to prevent the ball from progressing through the centre. The two central midfielders will stop the opposing midfield from having time to turn on the ball, whilst the defensive midfielder will shield the ball from reaching the centre forward.
When the opposition reaches the final third, Fulham shift back to a 4-4-2. Carvalho rushes out from the midfield line to press the opposition defenders on the ball, in order to prevent the opposition from sustaining pressure against them. They try to prevent the opposition from having time on the ball and creating a penetrative pass into the box.
Fulham have been vulnerable at times from wide areas when the ball has been played around the front two and players have combined in wide areas. They have conceded chances from crosses, as well as having some defensive 1v1 issues from players such as Robinson. He, at times, gets too close to the opposition and allows players to knock the ball past him without the ability to recover.
Marco Silva has given Fulham a number of ways to attack the opposition after winning the ball. They usually attempt to launch the ball into Mitrovic who has the ability to hold the ball up, allowing other players to join the attack. He also has the ability to spin his defender and attack the defence by himself.
If the pass to Mitrovic isn’t on, they attempt to play the ball to a full-back who has space in front of him to carry the ball and drive the team forward. The full-backs instantly run forward to help create a 2v1 without giving the opposition winger time to recover. If these options aren’t on, Fulham will retain the ball by playing it around the back line.
When Fulham lose the ball, they aim to counter-press the opposition to force them wide and delay them, giving time for teammates to recover and help defensively. Fulham have very mobile midfielders like Seri and Reed who are also good at defensive duels. This is a very important transitional trait as they can stop attacks before they become dangerous.
Some issues that Fulham have are that the keeper isn’t very comfortable at sweeping play, forcing the back line to drop slightly deeper than they would like. Furthermore, some defenders like Tim Ream or Robinson aren’t great in 1v1 situations, which will become much more evident next season in the Premier League.
Looking forward to next season, Fulham will need to improve the technical quality of certain players if they are to stay up. They will need to replace the exciting young talent that is Carvalho. Improvements on the personnel they have in defence will have to be made if they want to avoid a repeat of the last season in the Premier League. There is no doubt that if the creativity is replaced, Mitrovic will continue to score goals, as he has done for both Fulham and Serbia in the past year. All in all, it is clear to see what Marco Silva wants from his players. All that has to be done is improve the quality among the squad and they will cause problems for the top teams.