After our chat with a Huddersfield fan last week, the ‘Opposition Opinion’ is back with some thoughts from London ahead of this weekend’s game with Fulham.
As ever, we are looking to bring you a view from the other side before this week’s game, interviewing an opposing fan to gain their opinions on NUFC, some insights into their own side and their thoughts on of our upcoming match.
This week we’ve been chatting to Dan from @Fulham_Focus, with him having the following to say ahead of his side’s trip up to St James’ Park this weekend:
Q1 – What short of shape / form do you feel your Fulham side are in coming into this game? I’m keen to know how you’re now feeling a few weeks into Ranieri’s reign..
“Not great to be honest. Sometimes you find yourself in a false position in the league if the luck hasn’t gone your way or perhaps you were suffering from costly injuries, but putting it bluntly, we just aren’t good enough.
“Last season we played amazing football, went 23 games unbeaten and looked like a side capable of making the step up. The reality of that assumption quickly evaporated when the team was dismantled by 6 loans returning to their parent clubs and Ryan Fredericks (who was a pivotal component of our play) leaving on a free transfer to West Ham.
“Neutrals criticised us for spending over £100 million over the summer but we had no choice. We needed to sign the volume of players we have just to have a matchday 18. The problem was that nobody in our squad had Premier League experience and instead of buying trusted, experienced heads to guide the likes of Cairney and Sessegnon through the season, we signed foreign inexperienced players who are taking even longer to adjust than the original team are. So it’s been a case of the blind leading the blind.
“Slavisa Jokanovic was indecisive with his team selections and chopped and changed the team every week. It became like line-up bingo in the end and it looked like the players lost faith in what we were trying to do on the pitch.
“Trying to play the same free flowing possession based football (which worked in the Championship) against teams like Manchester City away. Our tactics were very naive and eventually it became stale but at least Jokanovic left as a Fulham hero and without any ill feeling from the fans. It was just time for a change in my opinion.
“Now it’s up to Ranieri to pick up the pieces and the tempo has certainly improved. We don’t mess about at the back anymore, it’s more direct which suits the players we have. His subs and selections are questionable at times but it’s early days and it’s vital that we sign 3 or 4 players in January to give us half a chance. So early days for Ranieri but I’m certainly not blown away by him.”
Q2 – We have the worst home form in the top 4 tiers (lost 7 of 9), but your leaky defence this season is perhaps even more alarming. Just what is going wrong here?
“What’s going right is the easier question to answer…nothing!
“Judging from past teams we’ve had that were successful, a vital component of a successful back line is continuity. That has been non existent for us this season. We had a different back four for the first 14 games in a row which is just ridiculous, and we’ve even gone through all 3 goalkeepers.
” Injuries haven’t helped our cause but if I’m being brutally honest, we don’t have a single defender that convinces me that they are good enough for this level of football. Alfie Mawson and Le Marchand possibly have enough but for me they’d be acceptable as squad players, not as your first choice.
“17 games and no clean sheets sums up the incompetence of our defence and we need at least one quality centre back in January.”
Q3 – Who are the strengths and weaknesses in your current side? Also, is there any ‘ones to watch’ (for good or bad) that us NUFC fans wouldn’t know about from watching you on Match of the Day?
“Rico, our keeper is pretty decent which is typical of Fulham really, especially after my answer to question 2 and the fact we still haven’t recorded a clean sheet! He has a classy aura about him and a calmness which looks out of place behind the chaos that occurs in front of him.
“Other than that, Sessegnon is a special talent but still raw at this level. Cairney looks good in spells and of course our main man Mitrovic who isn’t quite on fire at the moment but his performances of late have been good enough to suggest the flame isn’t out just yet. He’s scored 7 goals so far this season and only Schurrle looks like scoring a goal other than him, so Mitro is very important.
“Callum Chambers has probably been our best player in last 3 or 4 games he’s played (used in a CDM role).
“As for weaknesses, take your pick.
“Andre Schurrle – this one will surprise a few people given who he is and the fact he’s our second highest scorer this season with 5 goals. However, our defensive woes come from us not defending as a team and from the front. Schurrle doesn’t track back very well, shoots from outrageous distances when he should pass to team mates in better positions and is a luxury that a team in our position can’t afford at the moment.
“Jean Michael Seri – I might be completely wrong but to me it looks like his attitude stinks. He’s clearly got talent but hasn’t produced, he doesn’t appear to try too hard and is too slow on the ball. He hasn’t come to grips with the pace of the Premier League yet. But on his day, he’s got the ability to be outstanding so don’t be surprised if that happens.
“I could have mentioned the whole defence to be fair but Seri and Schurrle have been a massive disappointment
“We have a soft centre, average full backs and the worst defence in the Europe. And all gift wrapped in time for Christmas!”
Q4 – Which players do you see as the strengths AND weaknesses in this Newcastle’s side? Anyone you’re wary of and anyone you don’t rate?
“Strengths – hard to break down, organised defence. From afar I would say Shelvey, Perez and Lacelles have impressed me in the past. I’ve always been a big fan of Ki too.
“Weakness – Don’t score enough goals. I’ve never rated Dummett and don’t think you have anyone else good enough for this level in that position. Ciaran Clark always looked suspect to me when he was at Villa but I’m guessing he’s improved.
“I would imagine we need to keep Perez quiet but Rondon is also in decent form so I’m wary of him too.”
Q5 – Aleksandar Mitrovic. He divided opinion amongst NUFC fans, but many believed he was a little lazy, sluggish, unfit and guilty of missing a few too many chances for us – with him not working in Rafa’s counter attacking system that relied on a mobile, hard working striker who could run the channels and chase every ball. What are your thoughts on him so far this season and our decision to let him go?
“I’m not sure what else Mitro can do for Fulham. He came in with a reputation as being all those things you mention but I just don’t see it. He was carrying a bit of timber on his debut but got himself in shape very quickly and has lead the line superbly since.
“His hold up play is up there with the best I’ve seen from a Fulham player, the ball sticks and he brings others in to play really well. He’s enthusiastic, works hard and runs the channels occasionally.
“It was well documented about his relationship with Jokanovic and that clearly helped him to settle down in London.
“Sometimes certain players just suit certain clubs and it’s horses for courses fitting into a managers plans. But now Jokanovic is gone, I guess time will tell how long his morale lasts in a struggling team without the manager he signed for.”
Q6 – What sort of game do you think it’ll be and how do you see it panning out? Score prediction?
“I’ve always associated Rafa teams as hard to beat at the expense of failing to be prolific. So despite our defensive woes, I don’t think this will be a high scoring game. I see it being a cagey affair where the first goal is vital.
“I’ll go for a 1-1 draw. Mitro to score a last minute equaliser!”
Q7 – It’s fair to say both of our clubs are facing a real fight to stay up this season. Which three sides do you see going down & why?
“I think Newcastle will be fine. You have a very experienced manager who will grind out the results. Southampton have appointed a good manager and have several good players in their squad. Palace have Hodgson who will always have his team organised and get the job done somehow, plus they have match winners in their squad with the likes of Zaha. So it’s a 4 horse race between Cardiff, Burnley, Huddersfield and Fulham.
“I have a feeling that the second half of the season will catch up with Cardiff and they will struggle. Huddersfield are a poor side who don’t score goals. Burnley over achieved last season and are a typical yoyo type squad of players who fit in somewhere between the Premier League and the Championship.
“Of the four, I think we will be the most ambitious in the January window and it will all ride on who we sign. If we sign the right players, we can get out of it but our recruitment of late has been appalling, so that’s a very big if.
“I’ll go with my heart and say Burnley, Cardiff, Huddersfield in that order.”
Q8 – If you could sign one player from this NUFC side, who would you like to see Ranieri go for?
“Maybe Shelvey. At the moment we have Jean Michael Seri in the playmaker role but considering the hype and transfer fee, he has been very underwhelming.
“We need someone in the middle of the park to sow it all together, so Shelvey’s composure on the ball and passing range would go a long way.”
Q9 – Finally, if you had our two squads to choose from and were asked to pick the best possible side, what would you starting 11 be? (BE HONEST!)
“4-2-3-1 – Rico – Schar, Lascelles, Clark, Bryan – Shelvey, Cairney — Sessegnon ,Perez, Ritchie – Mitrovic”
A big thanks to Dan from @Fulham_Focus for chatting to us this week, with him giving a real good in-depth insight into Fulham’s season so far – having high hopes for Mitrovic but no hope for their defence!
Next up will be the thoughts of a Liverpool fan ahead of our trip to Anfield next week.