Andy Carroll and Dimitar Berbatov made their first appearances for their new clubs, but only one was victorious.
After a dismal performance that culminated in a 3-0 defeat away to Swansea on matchday 2, West Ham returned to winning ways and in impressive fashion to boot as they outclassed a Fulham side no doubt weakened by the departures of key players Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey to Tottenham Hotspur.
Victory on this day made it two home wins from two home games for Sam Allardyce on his Premier League return.
Flix & Trix will analyse how Andy Carroll and Dimitar Berbatov performed on this day.
Andy Carroll (West Ham)
Sam Allardyce gave Carroll his debut when the two were together at Newcastle United. Given Carroll suits Sam Allardyce’s long ball philosophy right down to the ground, it was no surprise that Carroll was thrown straight in the deep end soon after he sealed his season-long loan to the club. And he didn’t disappoint.
It was Carroll’s knockdown that sent Ricardo Vaz Te on his way to goal where he then set up Kevin Nolan to finish with aplomb inside the first minute of the game. Minutes later, he was at it again, heading the ball down to the onrushing Mohamed Diame who cracked a fierce shot against the crossbar. These were just 2 of the impressive 9 aerial duels Carroll won on the day.
With Sam Allardyce happy to play to his big target man’s strengths, Andy Carroll proved a real menace in the air. Brede Hangeland, normally very reliable, was surprisingly intimidated by the powerful Englishman, such was Carroll’s dominance. There was a particular corner where Hangeland, instead of trying to win the ball, had his back turned to it as he was busy wrapping his arm around Carroll in an effort to restrain him. It was 1 of at least 3 penalty shouts Carroll thought he had.
It wasn’t all about long balls, though, as West Ham had spells where they kept the ball on the floor, allowing Carroll to drop deep and get a few touches before pushing further up the pitch. The heat map below illustrates this:
Generally, he did what was asked and expected of him. But while he was outstanding with his back to goal, he encountered problems when facing it. He managed just 1 shot for the 68 minutes he spent on the pitch before being subbed with a tight hamstring; and that shot, attempted from the edge of the box, was blocked and never made it through on goal.
It’s fair to say that Allardyce was more concerned with Carroll’s link up play, though, as the likes of Nolan and Vaz Te enjoyed running beyond Carroll to reap the benefits of his aerial prowess. In fact, Nolan was West Ham’s most advanced player for the opening goal, standing in an offside position as Vaz Te collected Carroll’s knockdown in the build up. Those 2 will no doubt enjoy playing with Carroll this season.
Generally, it was a good debut performance from the big man. Hopefully, his injury isn’t a serious one as he could use a few more performances like these in quick succession to help him build momentum as well as forget his disappointing spell at Liverpool. It’s unlikely that he’ll score many goals this season given his style of play, but he’ll certainly contribute to a lot of them for West Ham.
Dimitar Berbatov (Fulham)
Unlike Andy Carroll, Dimitar Berbatov didn’t start this game. He had to wait until half time to make his debut, when the damage was already done. He replaced Mladen Petric who offered nothing on the day as he was simply too close to the midfield. When Berbatov came on, he played higher up and the difference was seen immediately.
Berbatov set up an amazing 5 goal scoring opportunities from off the bench — the most by any Fulham player on the day. His movement was quite good off the ball and except for one incident where he attempted a low cross that went untouched as a result of his team-mate not continuing his run, he had a decent understanding with his new colleagues despite only just joining Fulham. He, like Carroll, had just the 1 shot, though. And, like Carroll’s, it was blocked. Goals will undoubtedly flow, though, once he has fully settled in at the club and has regained full match fitness.
In order to get the best out of his marquee signing, Martin Jol must keep the 4-4-2 he used today seeing that Berbatov struggles when on his own. His nonchalant approach to the game makes certain of that. But who should be his partner? Hugo Rodallega or Mladen Petric?
The answer has to be Rodallega, given his exceptional mobility and work rate, which would compensate for Berbatov’s lack thereof. That mobility and work rate was on show on this day.
Rodallega pulled to the left when Fulham weren’t in possession and helped track players on that flank. He also managed to get advanced enough to have 5 efforts at goal — the most by any Fulham player today — 3 of which were on target. The Colombian has been off form for quite some time and found himself benched at Wigan for much of last season as a result of that and perhaps his contract situation (it was about to expire and Rodallega didn’t want to renew). The times he played, more often than not he found himself on the left wing, where he was very ineffective.
If he is to have a successful partnership with Berbatov, he needs to get closer to the Bulgarian on the pitch. When he took up central positions when Berbatov was on the field, he found success. Of his 5 shots, Berbatov set up 3.
Fulham playing with 2 up top also makes sense because of the loss of Moussa Dembele, who was the team’s playmaker in central midfield. Steve Sidwell and Mahamadou Diarra started in central midfield today. Neither of them displayed the kind of power and drive Dembele offered going forward. Instead, Diarra resorted to playing long balls, attempting 12 today. Sidwell was given license to get foward, but didn’t pose as significant a threat to defenders as Dembele did during his time at the club.
The harsh reality is that the level of creativity that was once at Fulham is no more and Jol now has to compensate for that in some way. The answer is wing play. Damien Duff attempted 9 crosses and completed 2 today, setting the template. However, Kieran Richardson, who attempted no crosses and was generally very disappointing on his debut, must do his part on the left wing to help change the dynamic of Fulham’s play until Jol can add a creative central midfielder to the team.
Fulham suffered 2 huge losses this summer, but if the club can get the best out of Dimitar Berbatov, he will play a big part in helping the club to move on.
**Stats courtesy of Whoscored
**Heat maps courtesy of ESPN FC