Tactics Tuesday: Fulham’s Mystery Formation Revealed!

Football - Fulham v Juventus UEFA Europa League Third Round Second Leg

Thanks to those who played along in Part 1 yesterday. If you missed it, we posted chalkboards from a recent Fulham match and then asked you to provide their formation. Since we know you’ve been waiting with bated breath for the answer, we won’t waste any more time.

Fulham, in FFG’s opinion, plays a 4-4-1-1, though we’ll also give full credit for those that listed 4-2-3-1.

And here’s why.

Outside Midfield

Fulham manager Mark Hughes tends to flit back and forth between using inverted and natural wingers. Against City, he preferred the former, using the right-footed Clint Dempsey on the left and the left-footed Damien Duff on the right.

Fulham's starting XI against Manchester City

Intriguingly, only Dempsey came inside with regularity. Both Dempsey and Duff, as well as backups Simon Davies and Zoltan Gera, are versatile enough to play as either type of winger, allowing Hughes to change tactics without changing personnel.

Both the 4-2-3-1 and the 4-4-1-1 can use either type of winger. So this really isn’t any help in determining the formation.

Central Midfield

Danny Murphy has been pulling the strings at Craven Cottage since his arrival in the fall of 2007. The former Liverpool standout normally attempts more passes than his midfield partner (either Dickson Etuhu or Steve Sidwell). But while Murphy generally has a higher percentage of possession, both center mids play as holding midfielders. They do, however, take turns pushing forward, hence the relatively similar chalkboards.

But, again, this tactic is employed by both the 4-4-1-1 and the 4-2-3-1, so we’ve got to keep going.


Up top, the roles are more distinct. Moussa Dembele plays underneath, with Andy Johnson operating slightly higher.

Dembele’s permanent positioning between the opposing center backs and center midfielders is a relatively recent development. Earlier in the season, he platooned at that position with Dempsey and Gera. Bobby Zamora’s absence -and to a lesser extent, Johnson’s – was the major reason behind the constant shuffling.

In the fall, we wrote about a possible subtle difference between the 4-4-1-1′s withdrawn forward and the 4-2-3-1′s attacking midfielder: the withdrawn forward stays slightly higher than the attacking midfielder. Even this difference, though, isn’t a definitive answer.


Here’s where a major distinction between 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-1-1 becomes apparent. While both use a traditional 4-man backline – the center backs stay deep and the fullbacks move forward as needed – the 4-2-3-1 was created as a means for teams to press high up the pitch.

And the main facet of Hughes’ defensive strategy is a lack of pressing. Fulham almost seems to refuse to press high. Against favored Manchester City (Fulham was slightly outpassed, 492 to 472), most of Fulham’s interceptions occurred in their own half.

But it’s not as if they press high against weaker opposition. In a January encounter with Wolverhampton Wanderers, Fulham outpassed Wolves 638 to 389 but still made very few interceptions in their opponent’s half.

by Guardian Chalkboards

But since we didn’t include Fulham’s interceptions stats in yesterday’s post (mea culpa) and the two formations are otherwise terribly similar, you could argue successfully for either 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1.

Though when you read FFG, know that we determine the difference based on A) the positioning of the advanced central attacker and B) the ‘height’ of the team’s pressing.

USMNT Implications

National team managers rarely have much time to instruct their players, which is why conscientious managers try to mold their formations around key players’ club positions. Bob Bradley deserves some credit for allowing Clint Dempsey to replicate his Fulham role with the US National Team. As with Fulham, Dempsey splits time between inverted left winger and withdrawn forward.

Of course, those roles have been within Bradley’s 4-4-2. Now that the US appears to be moving to a one-striker system, Dempsey’s role could change. While it’s likely he’ll continue to start most matches on the left, the switch to a 4-2-3-1 could free him to press in the opposing half. His hard-nosed approach should mesh well with increased defensive intensity.

But given that Fulham don’t tend to press high, it might take a few matches for him to adjust to the new defensive responsibilities.

Gringos – did you guess the correct formation? Do you think Bob will allow the midfielders to press in the 4-2-3-1, and if he does, will Dempsey be successful in that role?

One Comments Post a Comment
  1. Gringo Primal says:

    Glad I got it partially right. I think Dempsey would be great in a system that presses really high.

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