Following two consecutive defeats, Fulham managed to secure their second victory of the 2020/21 Premier League season, beating Leicester City under the lights at the King Power Stadium on Monday evening.
It was a disciplined yet fluid showing from the Cottagers, who were two up at half-time thanks to goals from Ademola Lookman and Ivan Cavaleiro and were able to thwart any hope of a comeback for the hosts despite conceding to Harvey Barnes late on.
On the strategy
This was 4th against 19th at kick-off, so it came as no surprise just how obvious Fulham's tactics were. It's difficult to argue with their efficacy, though, and Parker and his players should be commended for that.
In essence, the Cottagers let their hosts have as much of the ball as they wanted — conceding 68% of the possession throughout the match — safe in the knowledge that they had the ability to pose threats on the counter-attack; despite seeing less of the ball, the visitors still managed to muster 10 shots, five of them on target, and two of them struck well enough to beat Kasper Schmeichel in the Leicester goal.
“It was a really disciplined performance," Parker said. "The first goal probably epitomises the gameplan in terms of soaking it up and little bit and being disciplined, then with the players on the pitch trying to hit them on the break. The first goal did that, even the second goal, so I’m pleased overall with that.”
On tactical tweaks
Parker said his side up differently here than he has previously this season, lining his players up in a 5-4-1 formation in order to match up to Leicester's 3-4-3, increasing their solidity in defence as well as their potency on the counter-attack with players given the license to roam forward when possession had been won.
It's a set-up which — according to the 40-year old — had been trained rigorously before its deployment in this fixture, and saw a handful of players fielded in perhaps unfamiliar positions: Cavaleiro led the line and Ola Aina filled in at centre-back, but most striking of all was Bobby Decordova-Reid's shining display at right wing-back.
“We worked on it all week, tracking back down on one side with Bobby Reid, who I thought sacrificed a lot of his game to do that job, and getting into a five-at-the-back and being solid.”
On just rewards
They rode their luck at times in this match, but — in a season where the rub of the green has so often evaded a Fulham side that in reality haven't taken to the Premier League as poorly as many thought they would — it was the least they deserved.
Performances have been on a positive trajectory since the Cottagers picked up their first point of the campaign against Sheffield United back in October, but Parker knows that's a difficult trend to appreciate when in tandem with it — hence why this victory was so important.
“I’m pleased with the team," he said. "Our performances over the last six or seven games have been pretty good, but you maybe lose sight of that sometimes, so there was a relief and a real pride in the team.”
On remaining positive
For the neutral, 2020/21 has been a remarkable season so far, with giants faltering and entertaining encounters aplenty. Fulham have, largely, been on the wrong end of the madness, and defeat is a bitter pill to swallow at the best of times.
But, as Parker highlights, this is a team that earned its place in the top flight and now has no intention of surrendering it. Survival will be an almighty task but this squad seem up for the fight, certainly in a psychological capacity if the head coach's testimony is anything to go by.
“I’ve spoken team about not letting defeats really cripple us. You don’t came to Leicester away if you’re a team that lacks belief. This is a team that’s got pure belief, and this was a massive win for us, a second win now of the season, and something we can use to push forward.”
On atoning for past errors
The main point to take away from this match is contrary to what many thought coming into this season, with Fulham written off as certainties for the drop: the Cottagers do have ability, they do fight and, as Monday proved, they do have bottle.
It's a notion confirmed brilliant by the two goalscorer on the night. Lookman won back the favour of the fanbase as a coolly dispatched finish displayed true strength of character following his penalty miss against West Ham United last month, while Cavaleiro avenged his own spot-kick mishap against Everton last weekend by converting here.
“The courage, the bravery after a slip, to step up there, they’re the things that we need, they’re the things that will determine what these players become, how good they’ll become, and us as a team, what we’ll become.
“They’re the little moments that you need: Ade’s performance tonight earned the right to score his goal; Cav putting his hand up, putting himself on offer to again be scrutinised.”