Back in July when optimism still reigned supreme amongst the fan base after our win at Wembley – no I’m not going to stop mentioning it – we all knew the squad needed significant additions in both numbers and quality in order for us to excel in the top flight after a four-year absence.
Considering some of the players to have worn the black and white shirt over that period, signing Andre Schurrle, the player who provided the assist for Germany’s World Cup-winning goal in 2014, was something to excite the fan base ahead of the new season. A player with extensive experience at top European sides and an impressive record for their national team seemed a major positive step. But sometimes past glories remain just that and exist as something which can weigh down a player for the rest of their career, just ask the scorer that night in Rio, Mario Gotze. More than halfway into the season it seems the perfect chance to examine how Schürrle has performed on his return to English football.
When Schürrle left Chelsea to return to Germany in the January window of 2015 he signed for then Champions League-chasing Wolfsburg, teaming up with Kevin De Bruyne, Ivan Perisic and even Nicklas Bendtner. Finishing second in the first season and winning the German cup appeared to provide the perfect platform to relaunch Schürrle’s career after finding his playing time for Chelsea reduced from what it had been in the 2013/14 campaign. In the 2015/16 season Schürrle became influential helping his side top their Champions League Group and beat Real Madrid in the last 16 first leg and his performances attracted the attention of Borussia Dortmund. But the problems that Fulham fans are aware of seem to stem from his time with BVB. In a two-year spell, Schürrle was supplanted in the team by Ousmane Dembele, Marco Reus, Christian Pulisic and towards the end Jadon Sancho. Leaving the German faced with the reality of having to leave in order to play the number of games desired by a footballer of his pedigree.
There weren’t many people complaining when Schürrle was unveiled in July and with good reason, as despite promotion there was definitely at least one spot available on the right of the front three which had been filled by a rotating cast of players over the last season. Due to his desire to play on the left-hand side of attack in order to cut inside, there was some concern – although not about Schürrle’s quality but – for what this would mean for Sess. Starting on the right-hand side of the three in most of the games at the start of the season there seemed to be some encouraging signs. Impressive performances and goals against Burnley and Brighton definitely raised expectations but his form began to slide along with the rest of the team towards the end of Slav’s reign in charge at Fulham.
For someone of his pedigree the poor decision making, the ease with which he has given up possession and the wastefulness in key areas of the pitch has been of particular note and the occasional defensive lapses certainly haven’t helped placate sections of the fan base that have been critical for some time. Examining his stats for this season is actually very revealing when taken in the context of how Fulham’s recruitment department is run, as they are surprisingly good for someone who takes this much abuse at games from supporters. Considering there are only five players who have scored for us in the league this season, for him to have scored 5 is nothing to be sniffed at. 1.1 key passes a game places him fifth for anyone at the club and his pass completion is much higher than all the other main forward players in the squad. However, while the stats illustrate that Schürrle hasn’t been terrible, the expectations are that he simply should be doing much better and I’m sure that’s a feeling not just felt amongst the supporters. But honestly, so far this season, who has? People may point to games against Huddersfield, Bournemouth and West Ham to single Schürrle out but again who honestly did play well in those games.
The appointment of Ranieri has seen us stick to a three at the back system, which in theory should have benefited Schürrle as it partially lessens the defensive duties for a player in his position. With Joe Bryan being fit enough to start regularly at left wing-back and Sess the up the field, the onus for Schürrle to be more influential has increased. But his tendency to massively fade after the hour mark and the reduced amount of time on the ball we have as a team under Ranieri means he has to be more efficient going forward. That this doesn’t seem to have happened is what should concern people the most.
Football managers – despite our perception – know what they are doing when it comes to setting up a team and also when it comes to who in their squad they believe are capable of giving them the best chance of success. For both Slav and Ranieri to continue picking Schürrle is evidence that they both believe he has the requisite quality, although it could also be an indictment on our other options in that area to perform at this level. With us now having greater space to play on the break Schürrle’s ability to run with the ball at pace and shoot should be more significant to the overall structure of the team than it has been so far this season. The criticism he has been subjected to by supporters is in some ways understandable, any player with a big reputation who doesn’t consistently perform to a high level becomes an easy target. But much like with Seri, some convincing games will turn that opinion around for those who are happy enough to admit they were wrong about a player.