Analysis of Barnsley's 4-1 loss at Fulham
HEAD COACH SEES PROBLEMS CLOSE UP
Work on the training ground will be key for Poya Asbaghi and his first in-real-life glimpse of his new team resembled a training session.
The Swede was in the stands at Craven Cottage on Saturday to watch Barnsley, who he would officially take over as head coach 48 hours later, match their high-flying hosts for 25 minutes before being utterly dominated.
It was like an exhibition game, with the main question not the result but how many Fulham would score. They eventually netted four but could easily have doubled that tally.
This game laid out to Asbaghi the many problems he will have to solve – the clear lack of confidence in the team, especially after they concede, the absence of a goal threat, the individual errors at the back, and the inability to find a formation that suits them.
But in many ways, this was not an accurate sample of the challenge Barnsley face this season as Fulham, who went top with this win, are so much better than the average Championship side.
FULHAM AWAY AS TOUGH AS IT GETS THIS SEASON
Fulham started the game with more than three times as many points and goals as the Reds, they were were highest scorers in English football by ten goals and had won six in a row, with clean sheets in the last five, including a 7-0 battering of Blackburn.
The number of goals between Fulham and the next highest scorers in the Championship, 13, was more than second-bottom Barnsley had scored all season, in which they are the only side in the division not to win away.
Last time Barnsley travelled to Fulham, in February last year, they were bottom of Championship and nine points adrift having collected one point from five games and had the worst away record in the division while Fulham were months from promotion to the top flight. The Reds caused a major upset with a 3-0 win which, along with the next week's win at Hull, are Barnsley's most recent victories in front of an away end.
That was one of many shock victories against much fancied sides who, in theory, should comfortably have beaten them under Gerhard Struber and Valerien Ismael. The beauty of football is that it is not played on paper and teams can always spring a surprise but, this season, the Reds have constantly lived up to their underdog billing.
This was the biggest mismatch of them all. Fulham's 11 – which included eight full internationals – had been signed for about £65million and the seven players on the bench were brought in for the same.
The substitutes included Jean-Michael Seri - signed for £27million from Paul Conway and Chien Lee's Nice - former Barnsley captain Alfie Mawson, a £15million recruit, and Argentina international goalkeeper Paolo Gazzaniga.
They were the only club in the Championship to spend more than £5million on a player in the summer as, with most clubs still reeling from the impact of Covid, they used money gained from a season in the Premier League to spend £13million on Harry Wilson and £7million on Rodrigo Muniz.
There was also a gulf in experience and pedigree in the dugouts.
Marco Silva has managed Sporting Lisbon, Olympiacos and Everton whereas Jo Laumann had one season in charge of a Germany third tier club but unofficially as he did not have the right coaching qualifications.
CHANGE OF FORMATION DOES NOT WORK
Laumann has been a dignified presence as caretaker, and is clearly popular in the dressing room and boardroom, but – after a good if lucky win over Derby – he has overseen a disastrous home loss to Hull then this comprehensive beating in a very difficult fixture.
Laumann surprised with a change in formation.
Barnsley started with a back four for the first time since they lost 2-0 at home to Cardiff City in March last year, the final game before Covid-19 stopped that season.
They used a back three in every game in the great escape under Struber, Ismael's superb fifth-placed campaign and Markus Schopp's disastrous tenure.
Laumann played a 4-2-3-1 as he wanted 'a extra body in midfield' and to avoid the wing-backs in the usual 3-4-3 being pinned into a back five by overlapping full-backs.
But the result was a mess, admittedly against excellent opposition.
Barnsley had two full-backs not in their favoured positions being overwhelmed by Fulham's wingers and full-backs.
They had little help from the wide forwards in front of them - who struggled with their new extra defensive roles while offering little in attack - or the two screening midfielders in Callum Styles and Josh Benson who, while good technically are not an ideal pair of disciplined holding midfielders.
Claudio Gomes would have suited that role better but had picked up an injury the previous day, or Romal Palmer but he was used behind the striker.
With Callum Brittain suspended, Toby Sibbick - a centre-back by trade - was totally exposed at right-back, against the club where he failed a trial.
He was often left on his own to deal with left winger Neeskens Kebano and left-back Antonee Robinson as well as Fabio Carvalho who often ventured over to that flank to join in the fun.
Barnsley could easily have been 5-0 down before Laumann abandoned the experiment on 55 minutes and reverted to 3-4-3, in which the Reds looked far more solid.
Asbaghi is thought to favour a back four but Laumann insisted that had no bearing on his system choice. If the new man continues that formation he will have to alter the personnel and make sure the squad are much more comfortable and organised in that formation.
MORRIS START AND ADEBOYEJO GOAL POSITIVES
Carlton Morris started the game after a three-match injury lay-off.
Although he was mostly quiet and had to do a lot of defending on the left of an attack midfield three, he showed some good touches and, when fitter and against lesser opponents, should provide the muscle and goal threat in attack, as well as the strong character, that the Reds have lacked this season.
Morris was taken off after 75 minutes for Victor Adeboyejo who made it two goals in the last three matches following a barren spell of 38 games. That will give him a huge confidence boost, as he moved to within a goal of being joint top-scorer this season. He fired in the rebound after Cauley Woodrow headed against the post when he should have scored, extending his goalless run to eight matches.
Woodrow's brace at Fulham last year, and the winner at Hull the next week, took his tally for Barnsley to 34 in 67 games. This eighth successive goalless game meant he has 19 in 76 since then, with seven from the penalty spot.
The captain is one of several players whose Barnsley careers Asbaghi must reignite.
With Obbi Oulare back on the bench and Devante Cole available despite not being selected by Laumann, Asbaghi has plenty of options up front but needs to find quickly a combination that gets regular goals.
A FRESH START
Both Morris and Laumann said in their post-match press conferences that it was important for the squad to have a 'fresh start' from Monday when Asbaghi takes over.
The Swedish head coach, and his assistant Ferran Sibila, made a very positive impression by all accounts on their brief visit to Oakwell on Friday.
They have plenty of work to do as they take over a side who have won two of 18 league games this season and are four points adrift of safety.
But there is enough quality in the squad and games left in the season to at least finish outside the bottom three.
He will have just two training sessions before Wednesday's game with Swansea then they visit third-bottom Peterborough on Saturday before three weeks without a midweek game which will be vital for work on the training ground, preferably allied with some vital pre-Christmas wins.