4 Talking points from Fulham’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of Barnsley
The opening gameweek of the 2019-20 EFL Championship witnessed a major upset, as promotion contenders Fulham suffered an unimpressive 1-0 defeat at the hands of newly-promoted Barnsley at Oakwell, with the result giving the fans an impression that the English second-tier is set to produce another riveting campaign full of frantic see-saw battles.
Even the most sceptical of Fulham fans would not have anticipated an upset when the Cottagers locked horns with Barnsley in their opening fixture of the season.
However, in a dramatic sequence of events, the Tykes turned the tables in their favour at Oakwell, something they had done so often in their promotion-winning League One campaign the last term and left Scott Parker and his unit dumbfounded with a lion-hearted display.
Barnsley enjoyed an unbeaten run on their home turf over the entirety of the 2018-19 season in League One and the Tykes were the only side in all the four divisions of professional football in England last season to have not lost a game at home.
That record though, was tipped to come to an end prior to their season-opener against Fulham in the Championship.
However, Daniel Stendel’s side had other ideas, and a young, hungry and determined Barnsley side absolutely decimated a Fulham unit that seemingly lacked the motivation and energy, as well as the character and the resilience to fight toe-to-toe with their opposition.
Barnsley took an early lead, courtesy of youngster Luke Thomas’ goal in the 13th minute. Fulham never really managed to get a stranglehold on the game. They hardly created any opportunities and when they did so, albeit rarely, the strikers weren’t clinical enough to capitalise on them.
In the end, it was a sad story for the Cottagers, who had initially come into the game as the outright favourites.
Yes, it is just the start of the season and there are still plenty of points left to play for, but few would argue against the fact that Fulham need to raise the bar from their 1-0 defeat at Oakwell if they are to challenge for promotion to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
1. ‘Humiliating’ is not the word
Realistically, it is the manner of the defeat, more than the defeat itself, that should send a big wave of concern amongst the club’s faithful, as well as the manager and the players.
From a neutral point of view, it looked as if Fulham had still not managed to get themselves out of the hangover of their Premier League tragedy last season and quite unsurprisingly, a return to the Championship didn’t help them get back to winning ways.
Scott Parker, who had taken over as the manager towards the latter half of the previous season in the Premier League, would probably be wary of the fact that his team didn’t show any signs of improvement whatsoever in their season-opener against Barnsley.
It might sound harsh but they were a bit more pathetic at Oakwell than they were in the majority of the top-flight games the last term.
The fans would probably not want to look at the goal that Fulham conceded, simply because the goal was an utter humiliation and the goalscorer, Luke Thomas, had two or three options to choose from, which clearly indicates that the Cottagers’ backline was completely caught out of position.
Even after the goal, Fulham had more than three-quarters of the game to muster a meaningful reply and salvage a draw. However, they found life extremely difficult against Barnsley’s resistance despite boasting of several high-profile names in their ranks.
2. Failure of the midfield
Parker went into the game with his preferred 4-3-3 system, with a midfield trio consisting of Kevin McDonald, captain Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen, all of whom had played an important role when Fulham won promotion to the Premier League in the 2017-18 season.
However, barring Cairney, Johansen and McDonald failed to stamp their authority on the game.
Although McDonald illustrated his proficiency in switching the play with his impressive range of passing at times, neither he nor Johansen succeeded in winning the midfield battle for the team.
With plenty of pace in Barnsley’s youthful attack causing problems for the visitors, not only were they slow to react to the transitions in play but they also failed to break up the tempo and shield the back four effectively.
That put more pressure on a vulnerable Fulham backline and the substitution to bring on Cyrus Christie in place of Maxime Le Marchand, with Denis Odoi shifting to a centre-back role, didn’t pay off.
On the contrary, Barnsley’s double midfield pivot in their 4-2-3-1 system consisting of Alex Mowatt and Cameron McGeehan, dictated most of the play and Mike-Steven Bahre, who played in a No.10 role behind striker Cauley Woodrow, was instrumental in the victory with his creativity and intelligence.
3. Cavaleiro and Mitrovic looked completely off-colour
Fulham’s success in retaining star striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, as well as completing a loan deal to bring Ivan Cavaleiro to the Championship from Wolves, should definitely have given the fans plenty to look forward to.
That, however, proved to be an anti-climax on Saturday, as neither of the two forwards looked anywhere near their best.
Mitrovic only registered a single shot in the entire match, which was an opportunity squandered from a promising position, whilst Cavaleiro was equally poor too.
Aboubakar Kamara, on the other hand, showed a bit more vigour but he just wasn’t clinical enough.
4. Anthony Knockaert – the only bright spot
Parker doesn’t really have any significant positives to take home from the 1-0 defeat but the performance of Brighton loanee Anthony Knockaert is likely to go down as one of the few bright spots in what was an absolutely disastrous team showing.
The Dutchman wasn’t initially in the starting eleven but with Fulham trailing 1-0, Knockaert was brought on in the 65th-minute as an attacking substitution to replace Stefan Johansen. The Brighton loanee reminded the fans that he could be quite devastating at the Championship level.
Knockaert caused Barnsley all sorts of problems with his direct running, trickery and eye for goal, and Parker will certainly have him in his mind as a starter for the upcoming fixture against Blackburn Rovers.