Eriksen shines once more as Fulham miss opportunity to escape trouble
Written by Chris Winterburn
In the week where Tottenham Hotspur boss Tim Sherwood declared the club has lacked a world class player since the departure of Gareth Bale in August, Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen once again put in an eye catching performance which once again proved it won’t be too long before Spurs can once again claim they have a world class footballer on their books.
In what was an archetypal match of two contrast halves, Tottenham took the spoils in a 3-1 victory whilst a win for visiting Fulham would have taken the Cottagers out of the relegation zone for the first time since late January.
If Felix Magath was worried that his side’s poor performances in getting positive results in the last two Premier League outings against Aston Villa and Norwich would catch up with them at White Hart Lane, it certainly didn’t show with the German coach once again choosing to go with a back five system which incorporated wing-backs on either flank. The result was a significantly fluid, mobile system which Tottenham struggled to break down throughout the opening forty five minutes of play.
Eriksen was given the freedom to drift from his left sided starting position due to the lack of Fulham bodies on the right hand flank with Alexander Kacaniklic, a winger by trade, being utilised as a wing-back. It was rather surprising Spurs didn’t try and target that area more directly as the half progressed.
With Eriksen drifting into his coveted role as a number ten it was interesting to see Harry Kane sacrifice a chance of scoring a goal by moving across the line and try to exploit a bit of space on the left flank and this made for a very easy on the eye, chess like battle for the opening exchanges between the two sides this afternoon.
With Felix Magath having attributed luck to his team’s victory against Norwich last weekend it was expected that the team would have had it drilled into them during the week that a higher level of performance was needed and that is exactly what Fulham gave. With Kacaniklic becoming more and more adventurous as a wing-back as the first half wore on it was interested to see Johnny Heitinga shuffle across to the right hand side of defence and hold a position there whilst holding midfielder William Kvist dropping in at centre half.
It was almost identical to the system utilised by Jorge Jesus’ Benfica side at White Hart Lane in the Europa League not too long ago and once again Spurs struggled to break down an incredibly mobile defensive line. At the back Fulham were like a spring such was their mobility through the wing-back system. When the situation required it they could be compact and stop any moves at all breaking through the middle whilst at other times they could expand, move into wider areas as Heitinga looked to do and restrict the wide threat from Eriksen, Kane and Lennon. As Adebayor became increasingly isolated it looked as if Spurs were set for another poor result as happened against the Portuguese giants.
However the first glimpse of Christian Eriksen brilliance saw Spurs take the lead. A devilishly whipped in free-kick across the face of goal from the right hand side took both the Fulham defence and goalkeeper out of the game and Paulinho had a simple finish on the line into an open goal. It was no surprise that Spurs’ opening goal came through a set-piece with the hosts having struggled to break down Fulham’s defences in open play for the previous thirty four minutes.
There was widespread shock just two minutes later as Fulham were level. If ever a side epitomised the danger of not concentrating after having just scored then it was Tim Sherwood’s Tottenham in the thirty sixth minute. Not one Spurs player bothered to close down a fairly slow paced Steve Sidwell run towards the penalty area and when Hugo Rodallega managed to hold the ball up and flick it into the path of Sidwell the inexperience of defensive partnership of Kaboul and Fryers was highlighted as the two ran into each other giving Sidwell a one on one against Hugo Lloris.
The game was poised at half-time with another forty five minutes of Spurs attempting to break Fulham down expected, however Tottenham gave Fulham no time to work back into the earlier defensive rhythm with a headed goal from Harry Kane two minutes after the restart. It was a fairly simple goal with Fulham having not reached full concentration after the break and Aaron Lennon took full advantage by putting in an impressive cross which landed right on the head of Kane in the middle of the penalty area.
The game settled into a steady ebb and flow until the hour mark when Fulham’s frailties with regards defending set-pieces were highlighted once again. Another Eriksen delivery across the face of goal rendered Fulham helpless with Younes Kaboul on hand to knee the ball into an open goal from mere yards out.
This goal realistically killed the game off with Spurs now in control and not having to search for another goal whilst Fulham didn’t look to have either the stomach or the quality to mount an inspired fightback. A surprise penalty was awarded in Fulham’s favour fifteen minutes from time which could have given the Cottagers hope only for Steve Sidwell to fire the ball straight at the as ever, impressive Hugo Lloris.
Defeat is by no means a disaster for Fulham when you look at Norwich’s remaining four fixtures however you do feel as if today was a massive opportunity to build a bit of belief by climbing out of the relegation zone. Still Fulham were so impressive defensively today and the work of Hugo Rodallega up front showed the club do have an outlet for attack with the season approaching a climax and next weeks’ match at home to Hull City could be another chance for Fulham to pull off the great escape.
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4