Experiments in defence & will Ruiz be the next Gera?By: Sam | September 13th, 2011
The Martin Jol era has started with quite a bit of experimentation in the defensive part of the squad. What manager coming to Fulham would ever dare separate the centre-back pairing of Hangeland-Hughes? Roy Hodgson brought the two players together during his tenure and Mark Hughes stuck to it because it proved to be very successful. But under Jol, Aaron Hughes has been shifted to right-back and replaced by Philipe Sendoros in the centre of defence. The new backline has had a shakey start with five goals conceded in four domestic games. But those goals should be taken into the context of the whole of Fulham squad under-performing in those games.
So why experiment with something that’s already working? Well, perhaps Jol’s thinking is to look at all the players in the sqaud and pick the best individuals. Senderos is arguably a better centre-back than Hughes. However, as football shows us, sometimes it just isn’t about picking the best individual players but those players who work best together.
On the other hand, maybe Jol’s selection of Hughes at right-back is part of a trend in football. Hughes is, judging by his time wearing a Fulham shirt, a centre-back more than a right-back, which means there are three centre-backs and an attacking full-back, John-Arne Riise, in defense. This is a trend identifiable in two of football’s top teams: Barcelona and Manchester United, who are deploying three centre-backs – with one being adaptable to full-back – and a natural attacking full-back in the back four. The formation takes advantage of having a talented attacking full-back in their teams: Dani Alves for Barca and Patrice Evra for Man Utd. If they bomb forward then there will always likely be adequate cover with three good centre-backs in defense. And this tactic seems to be present in Fulham to suit the great forward runs of Riise.
Perhaps then, if Fulham didn’t sign Riise, the Hangeland-Hughes pairing would not have been separated.
And so where are the goals gonna come from? Two goals in four domestic games is a poor start to the season. Even in the Europa League campaign so far there has been a struggle for goals at times. With the £10 millionish signing of Bryan Ruiz, one can expect it will be easier to score. He made a huge impression for scoring goals in the Dutch league – 36 goals in 61 games for FC Twente.
However, Ruiz isn’t a striker, he’s a winger who, judging by clips of him on youtube, likes to come from deep, run into the box from a central position and scores goals with quite special technical ability. He’s the perfect player for a 4-4-1 formation. Playing behind a target man, finding some space, taking on a couple of defenders and scoring goals from what can look like awkward positions.
For me, Ruiz could be a new Zoltan Gera who played an exceptional season behind Bobby Zamora in a 4-4-1 formation. Gera isn’t a striker, but acted like one after coming in from a midfield position, puzzling defenders and finding that space to score from positions that require special technical ability. Ruiz could end up finding his role in the Fulham sqaud will be much the same as Gera’s 2009-10 season.
And then one wonders, if Gera had have stayed at Fulham, £10 million could have been saved.