Fremantle’s finals hopes are in disarray but the dire situation they find themselves in runs much deeper than any alleged issues with Ross Lyon’s game plan.

Much of the criticism directed towards the Dockers in the first nine games of the Lyon era has suggested they can’t win because their new coach is too defensive and restricts the players’ natural freedom.

But their abysmal effort in a 48-point loss to West Coast on Sunday should show that the issue is the playing group’s lack of talent, not the game plan.

The Eagles midfield humiliated Fremantle. The Dockers were several classes below the likes of Matt Rosa, Matt Priddis and Luke Shuey and it wasn’t because of a dour structure.

In fact, the first quarter of the match is evidence that Lyon’s game plan can work. The highest-scoring team coming into Round 9 had no avenues to goal as Fremantle flooded back into defensive 50 and shut down West Coast’s space all over the ground, holding them to just four behinds.

But then the pressing issue came to hand. The Dockers just don’t have a good enough midfield to compete with the top teams and they were exposed dreadfully over the final three quarters.

Fremantle fans will point to the absence of Nat Fyfe and Anthony Morabito and the fact David Mundy and Michael Barlow are both underdone after interrupted pre-seasons.

But the depth and quality of talent required to have a midfield capable of pushing for a premiership isn’t there. That should be evident by the fact they’ve lost the clearances in five of the past six games and are down by 37 around stoppages over that period.

Lyon admitted as much after Sunday’s game and it’s clear he knows how bad a situation the Dockers are in.

They’re highly likely to lose their next four games – against Adelaide and Essendon at home and Richmond and Collingwood away – and be all but out of finals contention.

The former St Kilda coach is sure to cop the brunt of the criticism for that, but he inherited a list from Mark Harvey that was hugely overvalued by most fans and pundits and he was never going to be able to work miracles.

Fremantle will get better the longer they play under Lyon. One prominent football expert likened the switch from Harvey’s style to Lyon’s as ‘trying to teach a left-hander to write with their right’.

But if the Dockers are ever going to challenge for a premiership under Lyon, they need to find a way to add significant class in midfield.

The forward line is the issue that will get most of the focus and it certainly is a weakness, one they could address with a pursuit of free agent Travis Cloke.

But an on-ball unit that is too slow, inadequate with its disposal and too regularly getting belted at stoppages is the biggest reason Fremantle are highly likely to miss the finals once again.

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