Fulham manager Martin Jol’s fate was sealed with his side’s abject display at the Boleyn Ground on Saturday. In what was an early season six-pointer, Sam Allardyce’s West Ham team swept away the Cottagers to record a comfortable 3-0 win and begin their move away from the danger zone.
For Fulham Chairman Shahid Khan, enough was enough. With just three wins from their thirteen games so far this season – and just 10 points from a possible 39 – Jol paid the price for a poor start. In his place comes recent hire and former Manchester United coach Rene Meulensteen in what increasingly looks like a premeditated manoeuvre by Khan.
No doubt there are a number of reasons that might explain Fulham’s predicament this season – perhaps the rot had already set in towards the end of last season, when Fulham won just one of their final eight games? Or perhaps the fact that they’ve fielded a starting eleven that has been consistently older than any other Premier League team is counting against them?
However, the purpose of this article is to argue that – based on their inability to create chances in their opponent’s box, and limit those that the opposition create in their own – Fulham’s poor performance this season should not come as a surprise. Such is the extent of this under-performance relative to others the task facing Meulensteen should not be underestimated.
Last season Fulham were the ninth-highest scorers in the league, with talisman Dimitar Berbatov netting 15 times and finishing as the league’s sixth most prolific frontman, outscoring the likes of Sergio Aguero, Fernando Torres and Wayne Rooney along the way.
This season, however, only the two teams below them, Crystal Palace (7) and Sunderland (8), have scored fewer goals than Fulham (11). Furthermore, Berbatov has looked out-of-sorts, netting just once this season in the 4-1 drubbing of Crystal Palace.
The overriding reason for Fulham (and Berbatov’s) inability to ‘get amongst the goals’ is their inability to create chances in the opposition’s penalty area.
As can be seen in the diagram below, Fulham have created just 46 chances in the opposition area this season (equivalent to fewer than four per game) – the lowest in the league, and less than half the league average (93).
Given that over 80% of goals in the Premier League this season have come from shots inside the box, it is little wonder that Fulham are struggling for goals.
For all of their impotence upfront, Fulham also have the worst defensive record (along with Sunderland) in the league this season (conceding 24).
The main reason for this poor record is Fulham’s inability to prevent the opposition from creating chances in their own box – as can be seen in the chart above, Fulham have the worst record in the league by some way.
On average, Fulham concede over ten shots in their own area each game (143 chances conceded in their own box so far this season). Given that the league average suggests that it takes approximately seven shots in the box to score a goal, Fulham are effectively giving the opposition a goal head-start in each game.
The task facing Rene Meulensteen should not be underestimated. Not only does he have to reverse a run of five straight defeats and start to pick-up wins quickly, but to do this he will need to revitalise a side that has struggled to create meaningful chances with any degree of consistency and at the same time has been unable to prevent opponents creating good opportunities against them.