Magath Tinkering His Way To Striking Results

Consecutive Fulham victories for just the second time this season edges them closer to safety, achieved under the watchful eye of the Premier League's new tinkerman

Last Updated: 12/04/14 at 17:45 Post Comment

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Speaking this week regarding the morale and mentality at Fulham, Felix Magath was keen to reinforce the togetherness of his squad after last week's win at Aston Villa: "It helps us a lot - this feeling and the atmosphere. You feel it this week, the players are free, laughing and so I think it was an important win to go on in fighting against relegation. They are not afraid to make mistakes and that is how we have to play and why I'm convinced we will stay in the league."

Well, how disappointing. This isn't what we signed up for is it?. When Felix Magath came to Craven Cottage, we were told to expect players collapsing due to exhaustion, overpaid stars pleading to be allowed to see their children rather than face another lap of the dreaded Magath circuit and the dreaded taskmaster with his iron chain in hand. Smiles and laughter were to be banished.

In fact, Magath has managed to instigate an impressive reversal of fortunes and offered a very different side to a disciplinarian coach. "I told you I was a nice man," Magath joked in his pre-match press conference. "I know I have had to convince you but I know I'm a nice boy."

Fulham may have only taken ten points from his eight Premier League matches in charge, but given that such a record follows one point in the previous six games under Rene Meulensteen, it's a marked resurgence. The 1-0 victory over Norwich puts them two points behind Saturday's opponents. Given that two of Fulham's last four games are at home to sides in the bottom half, they are now favourites to survive the drop.

Saturday's result, particularly during the first-half, owed much to good goalkeeping, good resilience and good fortune. Magath said in the week that Neil Adams could only change Norwich's "atmosphere, not the tactics", but he was proved incorrect as Adams chose to use a midfield diamond with Robert Snodgrass at the upper point. Ricky van Wolfswinkel started up front and was supported by Nathan Redmond, allowed to operate in a free role with licence to float out to both wings. It initially surprised their hosts.

Norwich created the better early chances, a Snodgrass free kick striking the bar before David Stockdale made an astonishing save from Van Wolfswinkel. It was just the Dutchman's eighth shot on target of the season, clicking over to 20 hours without a goal. Van Wolfswinkel's play other than that chance was largely poor, and Norwich supporters will be quick to point the finger at their record signing should they be relegated. A backward second-half pass straight to a Fulham player epitomised his season, and he was removed before the hour mark to the cheers of his own supporters.

Hugo Rodallega was the match winner for the second consecutive match, and actually impressed throughout. The Colombian has been rotten since moving from Wigan in 2012 - this was only his fifth league goal for the club - but he lashed home from six yards following a Lewis Holtby free kick and the home fans chanted "Hugo, Hugo" whenever he achieved anything of note.

However, the most evident aspect of Fulham's victory was their manager's propensity to try different tactical shapes and personnel, a risky strategy when new to a club and country. Fulham began the game in a 3-5-1-1 formation (something I've never written before) with Kieran Richardson and Sascha Riether as wing-backs and Lewis Holtby behind Rodallega, but you'd even be forgiven for calling it 3-1-4-1-1, such was the way Mahamadou Diarra simply screen the defence with ageing legs.

By the time half-time had been reached Fulham had changed shape at least twice, reaching the break with a 4-5-1 that remained for much of the game as Magath looked to hold on to what he had. The ever-reliable makes for almost laughable reading on Fulham's page. Since Magath's arrival Fulham have started matches with 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1, 4-5-1 and 3-5-1-1. It's only been eight games.

Personnel has also been altered almost continuously altered by Magath. Diarra became the 38th player used by Fulham this season, a Premier League record, and the eight matches coached by the German have seen Fulham start with 21 different players - Manchester City have used just 23 all season. Relegation battles are generally won with stability and assurance, but Fulham Magath look to be attempting the great escape through almost opposite ideals.

Should Fulham stay up, it would be the most bizarre of Premier League survivals. An ageing squad, three different managers, 38 different players used and a record signing bought in January to try and make the impossible possible and has seen only 119 minutes of league action since his arrival. All such instability generally makes relegation a certainty, but in Magath they may have finally hit upon the right solution. Appointed on Valentine's Day, Fulham and their tinkerman German manager might just be a match made in heaven.

Daniel Storey - Follow him on Twitter.

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