The festive season is upon us, and for most people it is a time to rest and spend valuable time with family. For Premier League players, this time is the most challenging period of the year. The schedule is extremely demanding, with the number of rest days not really adequate for proper recovery. I remember from my playing days that this time was especially demanding. Not only are you struggling with fatigue, there is also a psychological challenge in that you are in a completely different world to most other people. While it is a time to take a break for the rest of the world, it is time to take it to the limit and beyond for professional players.
The Fulham players are of course well aware of this and will do everything to recover as well as possible in a period which could prove to be crucial this season. Assisted by the fantastic medical staff at the Club, the players will pay attention to every detail to make sure they can give their best on the pitch.
I managed to get down to the Cottage for the derby with West Ham, and as always it was so nice to be back to take in the special atmosphere under the floodlights. The Club had very kindly invited me to meet some fans at the Fulham Palace prior to kick-off, and we shared lunch and had a nice chat about all things Fulham, past and present. I am always struck by the kindness and knowledge possessed by fans of this football club, and the event at the wonderful Fulham Palace was no different.
The game in itself was not at all a bad performance in my book, but some key moments decided everything. Fulham should have capitalised on some excellent opportunities early on, and when we didn’t you get this feeling that the standard of opposition in this league will make you pay for missed chances. Still, the goals conceded to West Ham should have been avoided, and I left the Cottage with a clear understanding of what needed fixing first.
On that note, it was great to see a resilient Fulham team travel to Newcastle and keep the first clean sheet of the season. A football team must always start with the basics, elements such as distances, shape, decision-making, filling gaps. All of this makes up the art of defending, and Fulham finally made that count in the Premier League. Newcastle actually had no shots on the Fulham goal in the 90 minutes, and that is a great benchmark for Claudio Ranieri and his team.
Going forward, it is about supplying the players with a framework that allows them to recognise certain situations in a game, and the tools with which you solve those situations. A football game is a series of situations, most of which can be visualised and prepared, and this process is what eventually builds a trustworthy defensive setup.
Above I have discussed the physical part of football, as well as the structural part. But it struck me the weekend just gone that the psychological part is perhaps the biggest factor of all. In my job covering the Premier League we were of course in Cardiff to witness Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s debut as Manchester United manager. In a display of free-flowing football his team were completely transformed in just six days since they had been played off the park at Anfield. Just by changing the outlook in the minds of the players, Solskjær managed to get the best out of a group of players that had been suffering from clouded minds for too long.
A top class performance with a winning result is exactly what the Fulham players need at this point, and the home games coming up against Wolverhampton and Huddersfield are fantastic opportunities to get the season back on the right track. We just need that one game where it all clicks, that one occasion where players and fans unite to create the special atmosphere that gets you three points in the Premier League. Newcastle was a starting point to build confidence and belief, now it is about getting the win and gaining momentum.
On that note, get behind the boys these next few days for two crucial games at the Cottage! Let me also take the opportunity to wish everyone associated with Fulham Football Club a very Happy Christmas.
Come on Fulham!Tickets for Wolves and Huddersfield remain available for supporters to purchase on General Sale.