It proved to be a miserable end to the season at Craven Cottage as Liverpool dismantled a poor Fulham side in West London.
It had started so brightly as well, when the ever-impressive Sascha Riether’s cross was supremely headed home by the unmarked Dimitar Berbatov. Indeed, prior to the visit of the Reds the Cottagers had not lost in every single Premier League match that the Bulgarian had scored in this season.
Boss Martin Jol could point to the pair of controversial decisions in the second period which first saw the hosts denied a penalty when Lucas Leiva looked to have clearly handballed, before Sebastien Coates was judged not to have brought down Alexander Kacaniklic when a red card should have been given to the Uruguayan. Indeed, just seconds after the latter incident, Daniel Sturridge tucked home the second of his eventual hat-trick.
The loss marked Fulham’s fifth on the bounce as they dropped to 15th in the table, still not mathematically sure of their Premier League position for next season, though should Wigan fail to take all three points at Arsenal on Tuesday then that will be secured.
Perhaps what is of greater importance is the sheer nature of Fulham’s defeats of late. It is not just about the Liverpool result, where they were undone by a superb display of finishing from Sturridge, but the Reading, Everton, Arsenal and Chelsea defeats before that. There were also the extremely tame reverses to Manchester City, Swansea, Liverpool again, QPR, Tottenham and Sunderland earlier in the campaign and frankly, this is a team that very much needs major surgery in the summer.
Jol spoke after the game of needing as many as six players in the summer but on the evidence of this season, that would be too few a number. This is an ageing squad, one that clearly had the heart ripped out of it when Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey were sold to Tottenham way back in August and though the brilliance of Berbatov will still remain, he is also not getting any younger at 32.
Cast your eye around the rest of the Fulham squad and you will see a 40-year-old Mark Schwarzer and a back four that includes 30-somethings Aaron Hughes, Brede Hangeland and John Arne Riise. Fulham’s midfield this season has often included the veteran Greek Giorgos Karagounis, as well as the likes of Damien Duff and Steve Sidwell, all over 30. Berbatov and Mladen Petric also make up an ageing strike-force.
Clearly, this squad that needs freshening up and a real injection of pace as even those below the age of 30 lack that extra bit of speed that can make the difference in the top flight, which is why the likes of Kacaniklic with his quick, direct running has so caught the eye on occasion this campaign.
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