African midfield trio help Fulham secure a point against Watford
The Premier League weekend kicked off with new boys Fulham welcoming highflying Watford who had won all of their first four matches, only losing to Jose Mourinho and Manchester United in the fifth. It is in games with opposition outside the so called “big six” that the Whites’ big money signing, Jean Michel Seri would be expected to really have a go, splash his creative juices and run the match from start to finish. As expected, Watford proved to be a tricky opposition, forcing the Craven Cottagers to start on the back foot after Andre Gray had put the visitors ahead in the second minute.
The Ivorian, Seri and his teammates were forced to play ping pong basic football as the Premier League fourth placed team showed why they had done so well in their first matches of the season. There was simply no place for Jean Michel Seri and his creative juices to flow in the first half. Watford’s defence marshalled by Belgian-Congolese, Christian Kabasele was as cool as ice, pocketing Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic who had proved lethal in all his Fulham matches from the time he was loaned from Newcastle and most recently when they made the move permanent in the summer. Up front, a much slimmer Troy Deeney who recently lost close to 6.4kilos in weight continued enjoying dividends of his new shape as he partnered with Andre Gray. It was business as usual in the midfield and the flanks as arguably Watford’s best player of the campaign so far, Roberto Pereyra, William Hughes and Abdoulaye Doucoure emerged as a superior backbone while Holebas ran up and down the left wing at will. After watching the first-half, one would be tempted to conclude that Fulham could be easily one of the easiest candidates for relegation and that their over £100 million expenditure on transfers in the summer was misdirected. However, things took a different twist in the second forty-five minutes.
Fulham Manager, Slavisa Jokanovic made two changes in the midfield of three, bringing in Togolese international, Floyd Ayite and Cameroonian prodigy, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa who joined them in the summer from French Ligue 1 side, Marseille. With Seri, Ayite and 22-year old Anguissa now deployed as Fulham’s backbone, tables turned. The West-African flavor now present, helped bring the best out of everyone else at the Cottage. England teenager, Ryan Sessegnon found his rhythm in the left-wing back position putting out any fires and racing upfield at the slightest of opportunities. He even burst his nose at some point but changed his shirt and ran back into the match. Argentine Luciano Vietto on loan from Atletico Madrid got his playmaker instincts resuscitated as a more spirited Fulham led from the midfield by the Ivory Coast-Togo-Cameroon trio pressed for an equalizer.
It eventually came in the 78th minute as Vietto won the ball on the left flank and setup Mitrovic for his fifth goal of the season launching him to the top of EPL scoring charts alongside Chelsea’s Eden Hazard. He could have had a second but Watford goalkeeper, Ben Forster was equal to every challenge and ensured the match finished tied at one goal apiece. Mitrovic who was pocketed the entire first-half of the match by Kabasele now looked the most dangerous player on the pitch. The African midfield personnel deployed in the second half by Fulham really lifted the spirit of the team and their game play.
The question for Jokanovic now will be whether he will stick to his guns or sacrifice even the captain of the team, Kevin McDonald to deploy Seri, Anguissa and Ayite? Oh perhaps change the tactics to accommodate all? Only time will tell. Fulham will visit Everton this coming weekend before welcoming Arsenal at the Craven Cottage the following one.
As for Cameroon, Togo and Ivory Coast, they will be delighted with their boys repping them in style. With the AFCON 2019 Qualifiers continuing in October and the tournament itself kicking off in June next year, there is no better way to prepare for the showdown than deciding Premier League matches.