Both Fulham and West Brom came into this fixture without a single win this campaign, with only Sheffield United and Burnley holding worse records this season in the Premier League. Without much to separate the two sides, it was the smaller details that allowed Fulham to come away with a win and a clean sheet. Both sides, newly promoted from the EFL Championship, will be desperate to put a run of decent form together before the new year strikes, which will be hard for West Brom with games against Spurs and Manchester United coming up. In this tactical analysis, we will take a look at the major tactics applied by both sides that contributed to the end result.
Hosts Fulham lined up with a 4-2-3-1 formation which allowed their full-backs, Antonee Robinson and Ola Aina, to have a little more attacking freedom, thanks to the defensive protection provided by Mario Lemina and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa. Aleksandar Mitrovic led the line, with attacking support coming from Tom Cairney (centrally), and Ademola Lookman and Bobby Decordova-Reid (flanks). This particular attacking shape allowed Fulham to vary their attacks down either wing or through the middle.
West Brom deployed a 4-1-4-1 formation for the opening 70 minutes which saw Karlan Grant lead the line with wide support from Matheus Pereira and Grady Diangana. The midfield three of Jake Livermore, Conor Gallagher, and Filip Krovinovic (who was often the deepest of the three) looked to provide a balanced supply of defensive and offensive contribution. The vastly experienced Branislav Ivanovic lined up at the back alongside Semi Ajayi. For the final 20 minutes, the Baggies switched to a 4-4-2 shape in the hopes of finding a goal.
Fulham’s central success
As we touched upon in the introduction of this tactical analysis, Fulham had the option to explore attacks down either flank or centrally, thanks to their set-up. They saw the most success, in terms of xG, from attacking centrally, which gave Cairney, and sometimes one of the two wider attacking midfielders, to have a lot of creative influence over the game.
In the analysis above, Lemina, the man on the ball, has absolutely no pressure applied on him by West Brom, allowing him to pick his next action fairly easily and carefully. Quite early in the game, Fulham sensed a weakness in West Brom’s lack of ability to defend in the central midfield area, and would often look to fizz passes through the midfield area, and put themselves in an attack vs defence situation. Lemina sees Decordova-Reid in an unmarked position in between the West Brom midfield and backline, in some potentially dangerous space. Gallagher and Krovinovic are the two Albion midfielders who seem clueless as to how to set up for this, with Livermore occupied elsewhere. The result allowed for Lemina to fire a pass between the two, straight into the feet of Decordova-Reid, who was allowed to control the ball on the half-turn and run at the West Brom defence. He then unleashed a long range shot, which turned out to be a poor decision after Fulham had just taken their opponent’s midfield out of the equation.
Just seconds later, Fulham were presented with another chance to play through the midfield zone, with the West Brom midfield simply looking lost. After gliding past Gallagher with the ball, Zambo Anguissa performed a smooth and fast one-two move with Tome Cairney, with the intention of once again getting in behind the West Brom midfield. As we can see below, this was a success. As mentioned, attacking through the middle was a strong area for the home side. Of their total 54 attacks, 13 of them happened centrally, with an xG of 0.83, significantly higher than their attacks down either flank.
We can see, marked in the yellow-fade zone, Fulham just played their past the entire central midfield of West Brom, leaving the visitors with some monumental defending to do. From here, Zambo Anguissa displayed much more composure and awareness than Decordova-Reid did with the previous chance. Zambo Anguissa sidestepped a few yards, as left-back Robinson joined the equation – Lookman’s smart decoy run opened up the space for the former Wigan Athletic defender. Following this, Robinson’s perfect delivery was met by the head of Mitrovic, who smarts headed it into the path of Decordova-Reid, who headed home from close range, finishing off a very smart Fulham attack.
Pressing performance of both teams
The defensive problems for the Baggies stretch back to long before this fixture. After just seven league games, they’ve shipped 16 goals – the worst defensive record in the Premier League this season as it stands. We have already identified one issue they are having, that the midfield is too weak as a collective, making it easy to play through. Another issue that is visible is their pressing.
The analysis above looks at the shape and application of a West Brom press, but this Fulham move actually resulted in a spectacular goal, due to the sloppy nature of the press. Number 34 for Fulham, Ola Aina, finds himself surrounded by four Albion players after successfully finding a pass down the wing to Decordova-Reid, and is now supplying support for the winger. As soon as he received the ball, the four highlighted West Brom players closed in to reduce the space, but in such a wasteful way. The main culprit of the four is Conor Townsend, the man directly pressing the Fulham man. His challenge was too slowly applied, allowing Decordova-Reid to threat a smart pass into Mitrovic, who left by West Brom in far too much space. The next part to break down is why it was wasteful and sloppy for West Brom to commit four players to this press.
Conor Gallagher, the Baggies player on the left shoulder of Aina, has absolutely no reason to be positioned there as he offers no real defensive benefit. Had he been positioned a little more centrally, nearer to the two arrow heads, for example, the goal would likely not have happened at all. Gallagher is not fully to blame for this space not being initially closed off, though – Jake Livermore is nowhere near the action. After the pass found Mitrovic, he executed a delicate first time set-back-pass to Aina, who unleashed a rocket into the top corner to give Fulham their second goal in three minutes.
As Fulham regained some control of possession in the later stages of the game, they opted to allow West Brom very little time to play out of defence when the visitors had the ball. This meant a number of Baggies players had to retreat to their own half to offer support and provide protection, leaving their attackers isolated when the inevitable long ball came. Mitrovic, despite not being the quickest, is one of the most aggressive and tenacious strikers in the Premier League, which comes in handy when pressing. Furthermore, having several teammates in West Brom’s deepest third made it very difficult for the visitors to maintain possession, never mind create goalscoring chances. Applying pressure in the fashion allowed Fulham to ultimately control the closing stages of the game, and ensure that they would take all three points on this occasion.
West Brom’s attempted fightback
This fixture, for a time, was not as one-sided as some may think. After conceding the second goal, we saw a combination of Fulham perhaps sitting back a little bit to preserve energy and a sense of spirit from West Brom. The baggies ended up dominating possession from the 31st minute, up until the 60th minute, and their attacks per minutes rates were at their highest in these time periods. Their issue lied within finding an end product to some good possession, partly down to good defending from Fulham, or poor decision making by West Brom individuals.
Often, West Brom’s preference was to attack the wide areas after some good possession around the centre as they looked to create openings out wide. They managed to do just that in this scenario. Townsend looks to play a first time pass into the path of Diangana, who found a dangerous space to exploit in the Fulham penalty area. Reaching this point of attack is not where Fulham had difficulty. They made 21 passes into the box during the game, with an accuracy rating of 48% – both of these numbers were higher than Fulham’s. 10 of their possessions reached the penalty area, so it is clear that they have some creativity and attacking quality in their ranks, and showed that dangerous, attacking football can be simple yet still effective. Despite this move being a good one from the visitors, the two highlighted Fulham players reacted quickly to apply pressure to Diangana, resulting in a corner.
West Brom came out in the second half under the same intensity as they ended the first half. They showed no fear in holding possession deep into the Fulham half, allowing them to commit more players forward in supporting positions. Above is an example of this. Including the man on the ball, the Baggies have seven players forward to support this attack, with passing options located mainly centrally, but also on the far flank to stretch Fulham. Krovinovic’s pass into Pereira held good pace, allowing him to control it before winning his side a free kick in a very dangerous position.
As talked about, West Brom showed flashes of attacking quality, but only managed to record an xG rating of 0.80 through the whole match, from 10 total shots – just one on target. Their defensive issues remain a real problem, and will likely see them dragged into a relegation battle unless they rectify this. Instilling some more creativity and idea towards attacking solution will give them a real goal scoring boost for the season as well. As for Fulham, they need to put some strong form together after this victory. Their squad has areas that shine with quality – Mitrovic with his aggressive nature and his work rate certainly has its perks, and it looks like the midfield area for Fulham is working very cohesively. Fulham came into this game with a clear game plan, and managed to either control the game or stop West Brom from creating any clear cut chances, fully deserving the three points.