What was your reaction to the performance today?
Obviously I’m very pleased with the performance, it was a very difficult game. We knew that Fulham are in excellent form, they have some excellent players. We knew that there were going to be times where, perhaps, we were going to have to dig in, defend very well and make certain that our shape was good at all times and we sealed off as many spaces as we possibly could. Hoping of course that the game would eventually open out into more spaces that would enable us to use Eberechi Eze in particular as a sort of No.10 but it didn’t work out that way, and that’s credit to Fulham and the way they sealed off spaces as well. It was a game really between two teams who knew what they were doing, so I’ve got to be very happy that in a game where we didn’t create enough chances ourselves, and feel disappointed that we didn’t win the game, that we did well enough defensively to draw the game.
Defensively there were some good saves from Vicente Guaita, and some good blocks from Gary Cahill as well.
Yeah, one good save from Vicente – he didn’t have many saves to make but there were some good blocks, that’s right, and certainly there was an excellent block from Gary Cahill. But the save from Vicente was a match-winning save.
You said Wilfried Zaha is back in training. You’ve got a couple of tough games coming up – is he likely to be available for selection for those?
I doubt it, unfortunately. I think we have to wait. The Manchester United game that has been thrust upon us is obviously something we’re pretty unhappy about, especially in this current state of affairs where we do have so many of our good players, our first team players unavailable. It’s pretty tough to have to play Man United now and then get three weeks off when we don’t need three weeks off. I’d have much preferred if this game had stayed where it was. But it’s part and parcel, I guess, of being in the Premier League, being involved in cup competitions. The powers that be feel the need to move games, sometimes it will suit a team and sometimes it won’t. But I’ve got to say, the game coming up on Wednesday definitely doesn’t suit us. I’d have much preferred to have a week now to get people back in some sort of form, give those guys who are playing at least a few more days to possibly be ready, and most importantly give ourselves a chance to recover from two unbelievably difficult games that we’ve had to face against Brighton and Fulham where we’ve spent a lot of the time working very hard to defend our goal.
There was some suggestion in the post-match analysis that you perhaps could have been more ambitious given your position in the table. Do you agree with that, or do you think it’s more important to preserve the clean sheet?
I think our ambition was to attack and create lots of goal chances, but unfortunately there are two teams on the field, aren’t there? I’ve got to say that they were very, very good, Fulham, at closing down, restricting our time and space, making certain that the attacking moves and the options that we were sort of hoping to launch weren’t available to us, and as a result you have to play the game that’s out there. I mean, before the game, certainly we didn’t set out to involve ourselves in a game where the opposition had as much of the ball as they did and were asking questions of us in the way that they did. We set out, of course, to make it a very even game. Credit to Fulham, that didn’t happen. As a result, when it wasn’t happening, we had to make certain that the weapons we have at our disposal were also brought to bear. The major weapon that we had in that respect today was the defensive shape, defensive organisation and the desire of the players to make certain that if we’re not going to be able to win this game then we’re not going to lose it.
Do you expect Fulham to stay up from what you’ve seen today?
Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the fact is they would have liked the three points, of course, but it’s still an important point for them, it takes them up to within three points of the teams above them.I’m pretty certain that with the confidence and quality they’re showing, and the quality that they have in their team – there’s no doubt that they’ve introduced a lot of quality players to this team. They’re on a good run in recent weeks. I think that this is their eighth point from four games, which is really top, top Premier League positioning, if you like, to get eight points from four games. So I fully expect them to make it very, very difficult for the teams above and around them.And I’m delighted that we’ve been able to keep our gap to them the 10 points that it currently is, but I’m also aware that they’re going to be creeping up behind us, and if we want to keep that gap we’re going to have to win games ourselves.
Mateta scored a fantastic goal the other day – is everything alright with him? He didn’t come off the bench.
No he didn’t come on today because Benteke, whom I chose to play in his place, was doing an excellent job. And of course, Benteke plays a role for us as well defensively, especially from corner kicks and wide and deep free-kicks.JP Mateta is a different type of player to that, so I didn’t see any reason to bring him on today. I thought it was important that the guys who were out there and doing a very good job for us and working as hard as they were for us, they were allowed to keep doing what they were doing because I didn’t see what JP would be able to do which could make a difference, if you like, in us seeing the game through as we did.But he is fine, he is ready to play and he’ll be competing but must say that I thought Benteke today did an excellent job for us up front.
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