Pavel Pogrebnyak signing for Fulham wasn’t the biggest deal of the January transfer window, but the big Russian has certainly made a giant impact.
Pogrebnyak arrived at Fulham from Bundesliga side Stuttgart, where he had failed to fire following an impressive few years at Zenit. In St. Petersburg, Pavel Pogrebnyak had fired in the goals, won a Europa League and also helped the Russian outfit beat Manchester United 2-1 in the Super Cup.
With his stock high, Stuttgart moved to make him the focal point of their attack, but in three seasons and 67 Bundesliga matches for VFB, he scored just 15 times. With Pogrebnyak due to be out of contract in the summer, Fulham manager Martin Jol made his move to bring him to Craven Cottage.
Jol has plenty of experience of the Bundesliga from his time in charge at Hamburg, and made Pogrebnyak his number one January target in a £3 million move.
In three Premier League matches with Fulham, Pavel Pogrebnyak has made an instant impact with five goals, but just how is he doing it?
Pavel Pogrebnyak at Fulham
Pavel Pogrebnyak has played just 235 minutes on the field with Fulham in three Premier League matches, but his efficiency in front of goal has been off the charts.
|Mins on pitch||235|
|Shots at goal||7|
|Mins per shot at goal||34 mins|
|Mins per touch||2.4 mins|
|Mins per key pass||78 mins|
Pavel Pogrebnyak has been ruthless in front of the target scoring five times from just seven shots, with a fantastic 71% shooting accuracy. This is not by chance either, as we will see in a minute, Fulham have a game plan and they are playing to Pogrebnyak’s strengths.
How Fulham play to the strengths of Pavel Pogrebnyak
Pavel Pogrebnyak uses his strength and size in order to score goals in the box. That’s nothing new, but if we look at his three matches so far for Fulham, we get an interesting pattern of play evolving from him and the team.
In his first match in the white of the Cottagers against Stoke, Pogrebnyak was on the field for 61 minutes as the lone striker ahead of Bryan Ruiz, who was playing in an advanced midfield position.
If we look at an average position map from the match, we can see Pavel Pogrebnyak (7) leading the line with Bryan Ruiz (11) closely off his shoulder. Fulham’s attack is very much focussed down the right hand side, with Damien Duff (16) and Stephen Kelly (2) looking both to get forward. On the left, John Arne Riise is left to cover the ground, as Dempsey (23), Murphy (13) and Dembele (30) all play very centrally.
This has a knock-on effect on Fulham’s possession statistics, which we can see are focussed on getting the ball out to the right hand side of the pitch when in possession. Getting the ball out to the right flank allows Damien Duff and co to go at the opposition fullback and put in balls for Pogrebnyak to attack.
With the ball coming in from the right, this means that Fulham’s shot locations are skewed to the central and left sided areas, where the forwards, and John Arne Riise pushing on from defence, can attack.
The big Russian is looking to get on the end of any crosses and so plays very centrally. He favours both channels when outside the box, but more the left side once he is inside the area, which is where his goal comes from.
If we look at his goal in more detail, we can see the supply chain and movement in action. Danny Murphy manages to get down the right flank putting in a cross, which deflects off Matthew Upson and in to the path of Clint Dempsey (23). The American’s pass is controlled by Riise (3) who, with the focal of the formation being to the right, has advanced from his left back slot in to the penalty area. Then Pogrebnyak (7), who has stayed central, fires home.
A different role but same result for Pavel Pogrebnyak against QPR
In Fulham’s next match against QPR, the Cottagers this time were without the influential Damien Duff and so played in a 4-4-2 formation with Bryan Ruiz out wide. Pogrebnyak was partnered by Andrew Johnson, which gave a slightly different look to the formation. Johnson likes to play off the shoulder of the last defender and Pogrebnyak uses him as a great foil.
The formation this time is still skewed to the right hand side of the pitch, but Bryan Ruiz plays with less width than the out-and-out wing play of Damien Duff. John Arne Riise (3) is still responsible for getting out down the left flank, but has more support from Clint Dempsey (23).
Fulham still focus much of their build up play to the right side of the pitch, which starts with Aaron Hughes (18) feeding the ball wide to Stephen Kelly (2). From there they can focus on moving it forward and Fulham actually play with the ball as much out to the right as they do in the middle.
As against Stoke, with Fulham building their attacks from the right hand side, their shot chart sees them shooting from central and left sided areas.
With Bryan Ruiz playing slightly narrower than Damien Duff was, Pavel Pogrebnyak still occupies his central role playing very close to Andrew Johnson. He favours the right hand side of this central area outside the box, but inside the area he gets his goal by moving in to the left channel.
The goal this time is created by the attacking run of Moussa Dembele (30) and the movement of Bryan Ruiz (11), who has come inside off of his right flank position. Pogrebnyak, who has been working in predominantly the right central area of the pitch outside of the box, pops up in the left hand channel inside the area to score.
This movement from the right channel outside the box to the left channel once inside the area that we’ve seen against QPR and Stoke, is something to bear in mind for Pogrebnyak’s next match against Wolves.
Pavel Pogrebnyak has Wolves in for a mauling
After going 4-4-2 with Pavel Pogrebnyak partnered by Andrew Johnson against QPR, Fulham opted for more of the same against Wolves. One major change was that Damien Duff was back to work the right side and this saw the dramatic lopsided-ness of the formation return, as well as the width.
Pavel Pogrebnyak (7), again is playing just off of Andrew Johnson (8), who likes to play off the shoulder of the last defender. Damien Duff (16) is back bringing width to the right side, with Aaron Hughes (18) in support. On the left, John Arne Riise (3) is again given the freedom to work the flank with Clint Dempsey (23), Danny Murphy (13) and Moussa Dembele (30) playing very centrally.
Fulham dominated possession in this match, but they have done in all three matches since Pavel Pogrebnyak joined the team. The cottagers enjoyed 58% of the ball and again worked the right flank, having the ball out their as much as in the middle.
As we saw against QPR, Pavel Pogrebnyak when playing with Andrew Johnson favours the right hand channel outside of the box, then moving to the left hand side of the area once inside and does so again here. He has 15 touches of the ball in the right hand channel outside of the box, but then has 5 touches of the ball in the left hand channel once inside the area.
With Fulham favouring the right side of the park, again their shooting locations are from the left and central areas.
For Pogrebnyak, his first two strikes were created from the build-up play down the right.
After some good passing and earning a corner down th eright flank, Damien Duff whipped the ball in for the Russian to head home his first.
The second involved some fantastic interplay with Andrew Johnson, who received the ball from Pogrebnyak, before drifting out to the right in order to cross the ball for the Russian to score.
With the game won, the third came from a defensive lapse that allowed Danny Murphy (13) to play a ball from halfway to the edge of the area. Andrew Johnson (8) was on the shoulder of the last defender again and although his shot was saved, Pogrebnyak was there to mop-up and complete his hat trick. This goal, like the second, highlights how close the pair play together and how they feed off each other.
The big Russian‘s goals were all scored from within the six-yard box, which gives us another indicator as to his positioning. Of his five strikes so far, only one – his first against Stoke – has been scored from more than six yards out. So watch out for Pavel Pogrebnyak being a predator from close range in the matches to come.
Two of Pogrebnyak’s strikes against Wolves were made by Andrew Johnson, who looks to be back to being a livewire again. The former Evertonian man likes to play off of the shoulder of the last defender, and that is creating space for Pavel Pogrebnyak to go to work and the results have so far benefited the team greatly.
Pavel Pogrebnyak has only played three games so far in the Premier League, but Fulham have set out their stall to play to his strengths and he is not disappointing.
Having over-relied on Clint Dempsey for goals this season, the Cottagers have been in need of a penalty box predator. In Pavel Pogrebnyak, Fulham may have just found their man.