Liverpool have had a torrid time in London for the last week, first a lesson in cup etiquette from Arsenal saw their hopes of Carling Cup victory die, before Fulham delivered the final punch in the Premier League.
Signs looked good for Liverpool early on as Andriy Voronin had a free header within the box – however the striker missed the target in a woeful effort, showing his lack of form (and match practice). Yossi Benayoun then hit the crossbar with a wonderful take down and forward drive, which was to be one of Liverpool’s best chances of the match. After these early efforts Fulham defensively were brilliant and assured with Mark Schwarzer calm in goal.
Despite Liverpool’s dominance in possession, it was Fulham who broke the deadlock in the 24th minute with a composed finish from Bobby Zamora from a great Damien Duff cross. However the enigmatic Fernando Torres cancelled this out with a superbly invented half swivelled volley that flew into the bottom corner of the net (43). The second half was very nervy and when Torres came off 62 minutes in, Liverpool fans must have been scratching their heads. Fulham continued to be inventive in attack and a surging Paul Konchesky run saw Eric Nevland tap in the second (73). Then two incidents saw the game swing firmly in Fulham’s favour. First Philipp Degen received a straight red for a late challenge on Clint Dempsey, before Jamie Carragher received the same for a challenge on Zamora. Both decisions looked harsh and Fulham capitalised on their numerical advantage to seal the win late on with Dempsey rounding of a calm Fulham move (87).
Rafa Benitez: “We made one mistake, we conceded the first goal, after we drew [level] we were again in control and in the second half the two sending-offs were very hard.”
Roy Hodgson: “It was a very good second half performance and throughout the game Mark Schwartzer was largely untroubled in goal.”
It seems that Liverpool’s Premier League aspirations have disappeared as they failed to compete with an organised Fulham squad. Losing to Arsenal in mid-week would have hurt Benitez’s side and their lack of inspiration and penetration today means that Liverpool have lost six out of their last seven games, a statistic that is mind blowing considering their squad.
In the first half they lacked guile and for all their possession had to rely yet again on Fernando Torres to get them back into the match. After the break when he was substituted, Liverpool looked fragile up front and Benitez must be under pressure for his controversial substitutions as Yossi Benayoun and Dirk Kuyt followed Torres – leaving all the big attacking players for Liverpool having to watch the match from the bench.
The result of this match puts Liverpool nine points behind leaders Chelsea, leaving them with a mountain to climb. However they can feel aggrieved at the red card decisions. Philipp Degen’s late lunge on Clint Dempsey was late rather than dangerous and should have been a yellow rather than a red, whereas Jamie Carragher’s tackle on Zamora seemed a great challenge rather than a fowl, not meriting the red card given. Earlier on Carragher had taken down Zamora with no repercussions in the penalty area, so perhaps they levelled each other out.
Let’s not take anything away from what was a fine Fulham performance. Roy Hodgson has moulded together a strong organised team who play for each other and got his just rewards with a giant-killing at Craven Cottage. Although much will be said about Steven Gerrard’s absence as well as Glen Johnson, it is worth pointing out that Hodgson’s men are without Danny Murphy and Andrew Johnson, two stalwarts of Fulham’s team. Regardless, they played well and thoroughly deserved the victory. This win puts them 11th in the League in a much healthier situation. Fulham can start to look upwards rather than below and can concentrate on European victory on Thursday.
Despite the quality of Fulham’s play, questions have to be asked over Liverpool’s performance. Since beating Manchester United last week, they have failed to recapture the type of football needed to win games. Last Saturday they were competitive in all areas of the pitch and defensively strong. However, this game has shown a different approach. Emiliano Insua was lacklustre and although captain Carragher doesn’t lack for work ethic his tackling was desperate and harried at times. More concerning was the lack of inventiveness up-front, where excluding a Torres moment of magic, Liverpool were uninspired and predictable and failed to bother a solid Fulham defence.
Liverpool play Birmingham next Monday and it will be interesting to see the response to the two drubbings they have received in London this week, whereas Fulham can hope to continue their good form against Wigan next Sunday. Wigan were destroyed by Portsmouth in their Premier League tie and so Fulham have to be optimistic about their chances at the DW Stadium. One thing is certain of Liverpool, they have to play better if they want to remain a top four outfit this season.
Fulham 3-1 Liverpool Torres 42- Zamora 24, Nevland 72, Dempsey 87
Fulham(4-4-2): Schwarzer – Konchesky, Pantsil, Hangeland, Hughes – Baird, Duff (Nevland 46), Dempsey, Greening (Etuhu 86), Kamara (Gera 46), Zamora
Liverpool (4-5-1): Reina – Carragher, Insua, Kyrgiakos, Degen – Benayoun (Eccelston 82), Mascherano, Lucas, Voronin, Kuyt (Ayala 85) – Torres (Babbel 63)
Fulham – Liverpool
2 – Corners – 2
10 (6) – Shots (on target) – 6 (3)
10 – Fouls – 13
1 (0) – Yellow cards (Red) – 0 (2)
6 – Offside – 2