Scott Parker – Fulham – Tactical Analysis (2020-21)

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Although Fulham currently sit in the relegation zone, it could be argued that Scott Parker’s start to his managerial career could hardly have gone better. After retiring from the game in 2017, Parker took over toward the tail-end of their horrendous 2018-19 season. He then secured the full-time managerial role for the start of the 2019-20 EFL Championship season, earning promotion via the playoffs in his first season at the club. Although 2020-21 might end in relegation, Scott Parker has immensely improved Fulham from the last time they were in the league and has kept them within a fighting chance of survival throughout the season. This is a tactical analysis of Scott Parker’s Fulham.

system of play: 4-2-3-1

Fulham have chopped and changed their formation throughout the season. The 4-2-3-1 has been fairly stable, although Josh Maja’s arrival may spark a change to the attack if the previous two games are anything to go off of. In the last two matches, Loftus Cheek has switched over to the right as Bobby Decordova-Reid plays alongside the on-loan striker in an advanced role. This has meant a change of shape to 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 with the Jamaican international dropping in to pick up the ball in central areas and maintain some of that 4-2-3-1 consistency. The 4-2-3-1 has been Scott Parker’s favoured formation for most of the season despite the many changes, although the 3-4-2-1 has been another of Parker’s preferences.

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In goal, Alphonse Areola has been one of the best keepers in the league, after making a surprise loan move from PSG in the summer. The Frenchman’s conceded just twenty-nine goals in his twenty-three matches this season, with an impressive saves per goal ratio of 2.8. The back-line has grown in consistency over the course of the season, with on-loan defender Joachim Andersen making a particular impression. The twenty-four year old defender has evidently made an impression on Parker, as he has captained more matches this season than any other player. He organizes and leads a back-four of players under-twenty-four, some of whom failed in the past to establish themselves out of big-name youth academies. Ola Aina had an excellent season at Torino last year after failing to make a mark at Chelsea, while Tosin Adarabioyo impressed in loan spells with West Brom and Blackburn Rovers, officially leaving Man City’s youth academy to make a permanent move to Parker’s Fulham before this season. Perhaps most impressive, Antonee Robinson has been an excellent addition to Fulham’s roster after his move from Wigan Athletic. The American fullback has done remarkably well to keep Joe Bryan out of the side, who was essential to Fulham’s promotion push of last season. Dutch defender Kenny Tete’s also been given a chance to perform this season, while the likes of Tim Ream, Denis Odoi, Michael Hector and Maxime Le Marchand have faded out of the squad due to Fulham’s early season struggles.

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In central midfield, Harrison Reed and Andre Anguissa have looked like Fulham’s best players at times. Reed is one of, if not the best passer in the side and consistently accumulates the best possession statistics, while Anguissa frequently puts up the best defensive numbers while also acting as a box-to-box midfielder. Their balance is key to Fulham’s set-up, with Anguissa often joining the attack or carrying the ball forward at speed, and Reed more likely to hold his position and spray balls left to right. Gabon midfielder Mario Lemina also has a role to play in many matches, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek can play anywhere in the midfield, including in that deeper role. The former Chelsea and Crystal Palace man is however more likely to play in an advanced role as a number ten, or on the wing when Decordova-Reid swaps to a forward or wing-back position. Ademola Lookman is the team’s steady left-winger, finally starting to fulfill the promise many expected him to reach when he moved to Everton in 2017. Ivan Cavaleiro was the team’s most regular man up top until Josh Maja recently stole the mantel, while Aleksandar Mitrovic still has an important role to play as the team’s top target man should the big Serb be required.

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One of the most significant and important things about Fulham’s squad is just how young they are in comparison to their other Premier League stints of the past. Scott Parker has given full-trust to an entirely under-twenty-four defensive line, with Decordova-Reid the oldest of the regulars in the team at twenty-eight years of age. Although some of their players are loanees, the age of their squad boasts very well for the future and Fulham’s ability to bounce back up should they succumb to Premier League relegation. Given how well Scott Parker has done with the resources at his disposal, he would also likely stay on as manager and help the team maintain that consistency. So those are the players within the formation, now let’s explore how Fulham put their own spin on the 4-2-3-1.

aggressive defending

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Fulham often defend with an overzealous edge. Although this can be positive in stopping attacks and remaining defensively resolute, it can also be a detriment to the team, fouling in dangerous areas and picking up unnecessary bookings. The Cottagers currently have the joint-worst disciplinary record alongside Sheffield United, with only Arsenal picking up more red cards than their three this season. Scott Parker has made evident strides to slow down this poor discipline, particularly with the team keeping more and more of the ball in recent matches. But a game going by without Fulham picking up at least one yellow card would be a rare occurrence for the Cottagers, and no team has given away more fouls in the league. But again, some positives can be taken away from this approach.

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As Fulham often get touch-tight to their opposition and press in numbers, they are quite adept at forcing the opposition into turnovers. No team in the league has made more interceptions than Parker’s men (12.3 per game), with them particularly likely to win the ball in central midfield. Andre Anguissa’s made 2.2 interceptions per 90, with Reed sitting just below at 2.1. Having both of their midfielders be sound ball winners has helped the Cottagers achieve greater defensive stability. The consistency has also been ever-present, as regardless of their formation, they always stick to that double-pivot in midfield. Their defenders have also been particularly resolute in intercepting crosses and adopting the right positions to clear the ball out of danger, particularly under this new young back-line that has been maintained since the team’s early struggles at the start of the season.

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Quite impressively, eleven different players in Fulham’s roster have made more than one interception per ninety this season. Joachim Andersen is also excellent in the air, which has aided in the side’s ability to mitigate threats from crosses, which they’ve struggled by in large to stop from coming in. Although Andersen and Adarabioyo aren’t the very best ball-playing centre-halves, their no-nonsense approach in the box has been massive in achieving greater defensive prowess. Tosin Adarabioyo leads the league in clearances total and per game (5.8), with Andersen in fourth in that regard (5.6). Where the likes of Hector and Ream struggled to get a hold of games, Scott Parker’s revamped back-line has seen much in the way of improvement, alongside an almost unorthodox approach.

high line & offside trap

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Fulham also typically play a very narrow and compact game in defense, attempting to move up with the play as a unit and hold a high line. They have been very successful this season at catching their opposition offside. The Cottagers have pressed fairly high this season, with the fullbacks frequently engaged in the other team’s half during the build-up. A mid-block is also a likely defensive set-up, but one that incorporates a higher line than most sitting deep in a mid-block would deploy. This very compact defensive shape has been a crucial reason for their high number of interceptions. It’s also meant that they’ve struggled to stop attacks coming from the wide areas, with the fullbacks sometimes getting beat 1v1 and the compact structure forcing the opposition into wide areas almost too much. But that is only a minor drawback, to an overall approach that has a few other key benefits. With this high line, opposition teams might perceive space in behind for runners to advance into and attempt a higher number of long passes. Again, Joachim Andersen and Tosin Adarabioyo are both beasts in the air and fully comfortable thwarting those type of balls. Andersen’s won 3.5 aerial duels per game, and a staggering 79% of his duels in total. Adarabioyo’s also won 67% of his duels, with 2.6 total per game. This high line and improved resilience in the air hasn’t helped Fulham from getting out of the relegation zone, but it has contributed to three clean sheets in their last six matches. The improvements in recent matches in particular are evident and you get the feeling that if they had these players in the side right from the very start, they might have been able to steer clear of the relegation zone.

possession

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Despite not being one of the absolute best of the art, Fulham are a decent possession-based team and often like to have more of the ball than their opposition. They’ve made 416 short passes per game, keeping 49% of the possession in their matches.

One of the hallmarks of their play has been an interest in playing down the left in particular, with Antonee Robinson often drifting forward to combine with Ademola Lookman. Ola Aina is the more defensive of the two fullbacks, and also the one more likely to play as the third centre-back when Fulham shift to a back-three. Robinson on the other hand has more attacking license down the left, often combining with his central midfielders or the team’s number ten, who also often drift over to that side to create overloads. It’s not as though Robinson gets forward and Lookman drifts inside. Instead, they often both combine in wide areas with the whole of the midfield joining them toward that same side. 23% of Fulham’s attempts this season have come from the left, with the likes of Ademola Lookman and Ruben Loftus-Cheek often linking up on that side and Robinson creating 1.2 chances per game. Only the Jack Grealish dominant Aston Villa favour the left with their attempts more often than the Cottagers.

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Parker’s side also have a strong preference for shorter passes rather than longer one’s, and do not shy away from playing out from the back. Joachim Andersen wasn’t the best ball-playing centre-half in his early days at FC Twente, but grew into a more calm possession-based player at Sampdoria and Lyon. He’s continued that to an extent alongside Adarabioyo, who comes from the Manchester City youth academy and likely has those values ingrained in his lanky legs. As mentioned, both favour a no-nonsense approach when defending their penalty area and clearing the ball out of danger, but in most other phases of the game they like to keep possession of the ball and play out from the back. With Harrison Reed also dropping deep to pick up possession, someone like Robinson can again have greater license to start higher up and look to get on the ball in wide areas before combining with Lookman closer to goal. Robinson is much less involved in playing out from the back than the other members of the back-four, and much more involved in dribbling and connecting with his teammates in the final third. Now with Josh Maja at the club, Fulham have an interesting forward who looks like a very dynamic, capable goal-scorer.

concluding thoughts

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Fulham haven’t been brilliant this season, but they’ve fared far better in recent weeks and Scott Parker is just beginning to pull something splendid together with his team. The Cottagers remain in the bottom-three as they have done for most of the season, but they are still in with a real chance at escaping the drop with a third of the season still to go. Even if they succumb to relegation, the age of the squad means that Parker’s Fulham could easily bounce back up and try again in 2022-2023. For now, they’ll continue to fight for survival and achieve what they couldn’t do in 2018-19 under four different managers. The improvement is evident and Scott Parker’s side are playing some fantastic possession-based, defensively solid football despite the over-arching storyline of their results this season.


So there it is! A tactical analysis of Scott Parker’s Fulham! Be sure to check out more Tactical Analyses and follow on Twitter @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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