The summer departure of Clint Dempsey to Tottenham had many Fantasy managers worried that the goals would dry up for Fulham this term. Martin Jol’s side have shown little ill-effects of the American’s decision to move to pastures new, however, and, with a trio of new arrivals offering alternatives up front, the Cottagers have already found the net on 21 occasions, with only Chelsea (22) and United (26) proving more lethal in front of goal.
Dimitar Berbatov, Hugo Rodallega and Mladen Petric have all added a significant threat and with Bryan Ruiz finally settling down after a difficult debut season, the attacking returns have been plentiful. After 10 Gameweeks, the quartet have produced 124 Fantasy Premier League (FPL) points between them, with only eight points separating the top (Berbatov, 35) from the bottom (Rodallega, 27). It’s little wonder that in an interview towards the end of last month, Jol admitted he was yet to discern the best front pairing in his preferred 4-4-2 formation:
“What is my best forward line? That is still my problem – and it’s already October. Ruiz is probably my most creative player but on the other hand Berbatov is a very good second striker. It’s like a luxury problem. The thing is we started the season with Moussa Dembele, Bryan Ruiz and Mladen Petric against Norwich and it was probably our best game of my time here. Then we had Rodallega and Berba against West Brom and it was another great game. I feel that Berba is not a typical No.9 and that is why I’m playing Rodallega because he has pace and he stretches defences.”
Berbatov’s Starts So Far…
Intriguingly, last Saturday’s 2-2 home draw with Everton was the first time Jol had fielded Ruiz and Berbatov as his front two this season, after the Costa Rican climbed off the bench at Reading to grab a goal and assist and earn himself a starting berth. Berbatov had previously been the deep-lying forward, the creator at the centre of his side’s attacking forays, but Ruiz was handed this role last weekend, with the former United man tasked with leading the line instead.
As the average position map from Saturday’s game (left) shows, however, Berbatov’s (9) natural instinct to drop deep in search of possession meant he occupied the same area as Ruiz (11) all too often, but with no one ahead of him to stretch the opposition backline, Fulham suffered as a result. Indeed, looking at Berbatov’s average positions for each of his appearances so far (right), only once – in the Gameweek 5 trip to Wigan – has he played so deep; bearing in mind he was the support striker in each of those games, the problem is more apparent and, allied with the stats below, suggests the pair might not be the best-suited starting partnership for Jol.
|Tchs||Tchs Final 3rd||Mins/Tch||Passes Rcvd Final 3rd||Mins Passes Rcvd||Succ Passes||Succ Passes Final 3rd||Chncs Crtd||Pen Box Tchs||Shots||Shots (Box)|
By some distance, Berbatov saw less of the ball when alongside Ruiz than in any of his appearances in the Fulham first XI so far. The Bulgarian managed just 47 touches, almost half the number of his previous match away to Reading, and 22 less than his previous low of 69 in the Gameweek 8 home win over Villa; Ruiz, on the other hand, had 80 touches – more indicative of Berbatov’s previous level.
Berbatov’s Fantasy owners will also be a little concerned with the fact he had just 17 touches in the final third – the least number in a home match by some distance and, while this mirrored his previous season low at Wigan, the Bulgarian’s involvement in the DW encounter afforded him a touch every 1.1 minutes – this figure dropped to 2 minutes on Saturday, compared to Ruiz’s 1.2.
Indeed, Berbatov received a pass every 4.1 minutes against Everton and made just 24 successful passes all game – once again, these totals were significantly lower than any of his previous starts, with Ruiz recording 2.4 and 46 respectively. Worryingly, the Bulgarian made just six successful passes in the final third – his previous two home matches afforded him a combined tally of 43, with his previous low at the Cottage 16.
In terms of threat, Berbatov –despite playing as the furthest forward – had his worst game for Fulham. He managed just three touches in the box, compared to 16 over his previous two home games, and had a season low for both overall shots and attempts in the box. Bearing in mind the least he had previously managed all season was three attempts, it’s fair to say that Saturday – despite his assist for Steve Sidwell’s goal – was something of a disappointment. As Jol mentions above, Berbatov isn’t a typical centre-forward and needs someone in front of him to stretch the opposition backline, allowing the Bulgarian more space to manoeuvre and room to drift into. With Ruiz tucked in behind him, it simply didn’t happen.
Berbatov’s Forward Partners
In terms of game time, Jol’s faith in Berbatov is obvious – the Bulgarian has finished every game he has started for Fulham and, when fit, will surely be the first name on his manager’s team sheet. Over his five first XI appearances, the former United man has been partnered with Rodallega three times, while Petric and Ruiz have both afforded a single opportunity. Looking at the key attacking stats in each of those matches, it’s intriguing to see the difference:
|Partner||Chances||Pen Box Tchs||Shots||Shots (Box)|
|GW4 (WBA)||Rodallega||3 (2+1)||16 (10+6)||13 (7+6)||8 (5+3)|
|GW5 (wig)||Rodallega||4 (2+2)||11 (6+5)||7 (5+2)||6 (4+2)|
|GW8 (AVL)||Petric||1 (1+0)||12 (6+6)||6 (3+3)||5 (3+2)|
|GW9 (rdg)||Rodallega||3 (1+2)||7 (4+3)||5 (3+2)||4 (2+2)|
|GW10 (EVE)||Ruiz||2 (1+1)||3 (3+0)||4 (1+3)||1 (1+0)|
At home to West Brom in Gameweek 4, Berbatov and Rodallega created three chances between them, with the Bulgarian edging it by two to one. They had a combined 16 touches in the box, with Berbatov on 10 to his partner’s six, while they racked up 13 shots between them in the 3-0 win; again, Berbatov just edged it by seven to six. Eight of the duo’s efforts came inside the box, with the Bulgarian managing five in a 3-0 win that also saw Rodallega play the full 90 minutes. Berbatov bagged a brace and maximum FPL bonus for a 13 point return.
Jol kept faith in the partnership for the Gameweek 5 trip to Wigan and was rewarded with a 2-1 win, with Rodallega playing all but three minutes of the match against his former club. This time, they both created a couple of chances for team mates and had 11 touches between them in the box, with Berbatov narrowly ahead by six to five. Their goal threat diminished from the previous match, with a combined seven shots, though Berbatov’s stats were almost as strong as the week before – he had five efforts to his partner’s two. Looking at the efforts from close-range, though, there was little difference – the pair produced six attempts inside the box, with Berbatov offering double the Colombian’s tally of two. This time Berbatov grabbed an assist and maximum bonus, returning eight points for his FPL owners.
A Gameweek 8 home clash with Villa saw Rodallega miss out – Petric was the replacement. The Croatian lasted 63 minutes before being hauled off and while Jol’s front two created just a single chance between them, Petric matched Berbatov for touches in the box (six) and total attempts (three), despite playing almost half an hour less in the 1-0 win. Berbatov still offered three shots from close range, just bettering Petric’s tally, but the Bulgarian picked up just two FPL points this time round.
In the 3-3 draw at Reading the following weekend, Rodallega was reinstalled alongside Berbatov but lasted just 58 minutes before being replaced. In spite of this, he still created more chances ( two to one) and has the same number of efforts inside the box (two), though the duo’s combined touches in the box dropped to seven, with the Bulgarian managing only four – with Ruiz replacing Rodallega and Berbatov moving forward, this was perhaps a sign of what was to follow. With another assist picked up in this one, Berbatov picked up six points.
Last weekend’s stats highlight the dilemma Jol now has. Ruiz was also handed 90 minutes in the 2-2 draw with Everton but his inclusion, and the change of position for Berbatov, definitely came at a cost. Looking at the pair as a partnership, they had three touches in the box over the full 90 minutes – while Berbatov had three, Ruiz failed to register even one. Although the Costa Rican had three shots to his partner’s one, all his efforts were from distance, with his fortunate assist coming from a combination of the goalpost and Tim Howard’s back. Between them, they offered a single effort from inside the box all game, with Berbatov also a little lucky to grab an assist and a five point haul.
Post-match, Jol explained his thinking again after the hosts escaped with a point in a match the Toffees dominated:
“Petric got injured a few weeks ago and I had to do something. I needed another striker, so I started with Hugo Rodallega and Dimitar Berbatov at Wigan and that was OK and Rodallega scored, so I left it, so that cost him his place. It’s all about momentum. If Rodallega scores against Wigan, I want to leave him in. Never change a winning team is the principle.”
While Fulham remain unbeaten in the five matches Berbatov has started, with three wins and two draws, the stats above certainly raise question marks as to Ruiz’s suitability to play alongside him. In terms of FPL returns and overall threat, Rodallega certainly seems to bring out the best in the Bulgarian, with his style complementing Berbatov’s far more efficiently. From touches in the box to overall shots and close-range threat, they look a better balance. More importantly for Fantasy managers are the cold, hard statistics – Berbatov has averaged nine FPL points per start alongside Rodallega, compared to 3.5 without him.