Raúl Getting It Right

Image: Fulham FC

Raúl Jiménez is back and Fulham are flying. It’s tricky to know which came first and the truth is more complex than Marco Silva’s team providing more opportunities for their striker, or the striker simply taking his chances. But we can look to some statistics to provide a bit of insight into what has changed in Raúl’s game, specifically.

There can be no doubt that The Whites have found their groove since the international break, but Raúl’s individual performances have also seen a dramatic upturn. Some will act wise after the fact, but it is indisputable that despite the shortcomings of the team as a whole, Raúl was not just missing the scoring touch, prior to his recent flurry of goals. Looking solely at home games, as that is where this renaissance has really taken place, reveals that the Mexican hitman has improved his contribution at the same time as a tactical shift centred on the return to the starting XI of Tom Cairney. Highlighting the club captain’s importance is for another day, or you can head to @CottageTactico on X (formerly Twitter) for a great breakdown on his role in this free scoring Fulham side.

As for Jiménez, he appears to have found his place in the team. A look at his heat map from earlier in the season against Brentford shows a striker struggling to know where he should be.

Image: Sofascore

This is not an isolated incident, with similar levels of spread activity against Luton and even as recently as the 3-2 win over his former side, Wolves. On the face of it a busy striker might be seen as a positive, but ultimately more time spent in wide areas and the centre circle means less time impacting the game in the areas his team needs him. Against West Ham Raúl actually spent most of his time in the exact area he was absent from earlier in the season. Centrally, in the opponents half.

Image: Sofascore

Providing such a focal point has allowed his teammates to work around him, rotating amongst themselves, safe in the knowledge that the middle of the pitch is covered by their frontman. There is a valid argument that the new rotation of Andreas Pereira and Alex Iwobi on the right as well as, although to a lesser extent, Tom Cairney and Willian on the left means that Raúl doesn’t have to go chasing the ball as much, but that would ignore some of his numbers that point to a much better return alongside his ability to find the back of the net again. 

Notable has been Raul’s improved ability to help his side retain possession. Against Nottingham Forest and West Ham he has achieved pass accuracy of 76% and 74%. That number was as low as 58% when The Bees visited Craven Cottage and only marginally better when Wolves visited a few weeks ago, 67%. There was no sign of the intricate chipped through-ball that nearly assisted Willian in opening the scoring against The Hammers.

He’s also getting the better of his marker in duels more often. Against Liverpool he showed aerial prowess as The Cottagers went direct. He hasn’t been asked to be as active in the air in the recent home fixtures though, but he was flawless against Forest, winning all four of his aerial duels. Importantly, he held onto the ball under pressure on the ground too, coming out with possession in five of the eleven tussles he had on the deck. Looking back to Brentford, that number was one from seven, and a concerning zero from three when Luton came to play by The Thames. 

Confidence can do so much for a player, but also his colleagues. Despite Fulham commanding 78% of possession against The Hatters, Raúl managed a measly 21 touches in his hour on the pitch. Granted he has lasted longer in the most recent two fixtures, but that can be attributed to his better output, as in 79 minutes against Forest he amassed 47 touches, and with eight minutes less, 35 when entertaining West Ham. 

A combination of holding his position, and a new found energy, borne out of confidence means the likes of Cairney, Pereira, Iwobi and Willian are now looking for and trusting their Mexican ally with the ball, both in build up and in front of goal. More importantly than that, Raúl appears to trust himself again and long may it continue. 

Marco Silva has become an expert at galvanising players who have seemingly lost their mojo. Jean Michaël Seri comes to mind, as does another striker, who’s name escapes me… Fulham fans will be hoping to add Raúl Jiménez to the list without dispute come the end of the season. A player who the biggest clubs in world football coveted in 2020 is returning to the sort of form that garnered such attention. Following his horrific head injury, few would begrudge him more moments in the sun, along the banks of The Thames.

Image: Javier Garcia/Shutterstock via Fulham FC