Again, Fulham gave it another go. And again, it wasn’t good enough.
In some ways, it was unpredictable in that Fulham, of all teams, were level with Liverpool. Otherwise, it was predictable that the best defense in the Premier League limited Fulham to nothing except one of the bigger calamities you’ll see all season. It was also predictable that Liverpool would basically run Fulham out of the building with their athleticism. If it wasn’t for a midfield that isn’t at their best and a front three that isn’t converting their usual rate of chances, this game would have been put to bed tens of minutes earlier. Instead, and predictably, Sergio Rico had to do Sergio Rico things to cost Fulham the victory. Because predictably, Fulham just don’t have a clue how to hold on to leads or draws after being behind early.
But before the game got started, Scott Parker put out quite an interesting starting XI. He had Calum Chambers return to his more familiar center back role and gave Timothy Fosu-Mensah a tenth chance to prove his worth at right back. He also put out the three most expensive midfield in the club with Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa playing at the number six role even though he’s a number eight. And Jean Michael Seri playing at number eight next to Tom Cairney even though he’s a number 10. Every Fulham supporter has known this issue for months. It’s too bad Tony Kahn didn’t.
However, Fulham started the first ten minutes of the game quite well. It only resulted in a long range curler from Seri, but 54.9% possession against one of the best attacking teams in Europe isn’t all that bad. Then both teams reverted to type and didn’t look back. Surely enough, Liverpool generated so much pressure down the left-hand channel that it resulted in the first goal of the game. After Andrew Robertson gave it a go a few times, it was Sadio Mané’s turn to see if he can do some damage from there in the 25th minute. The result was springing Roberto Firminho to beat the offside trap and pass it back to Sadio Mané less then 10 yards away from goal to make it 1-0. It was too easy of a passage of play as, once again, no Fulham defender bothered to disrupt the dribbler and just allowed him to walk into the penalty area.
From there, Liverpool kept generating chances, but none of them were coming off with the best of quality. But once halftime past, with no changes made by Fulham (shocking, I know!), Trent Alexander-Arnold started whipping in crosses like we knew he could. A corner by Andrew Robertson was perfect for Mané to head it home, but it was only good enough to put it on the top of the crossbar. Another set piece play saw Virgil Van Dijk almost score only for Sergio Rico to make an acrobatic save.
But there were some positives out of Fulham’s defense for a change. Sergio Rico did stop a good chunk of chances by Liverpool. Along with that, none of Mo Salah’s chances were of such quality that they were able to help the visitors increase their winning margin. Tim Ream and Joe Bryan had high character games to keep Liverpool’s front three in check for the extreme majority of the contest. Even Fosu-Mensah wasn’t too bad either.
So when Ryan Sessegnon came on for Seri, Fulham moved from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 and it asked Liverpool questions. What came of it was a subtle barrage from Fulham where they were able to counter Liverpool’s counter-attack and be able to springboard their forwards in the process. Among those waves included a Floyd Ayite goal that was waved off for being among the four Fulham forwards for being offside (can this season’s squad ever figure out that rule?!). Along with that, Anguissa gave it a go from long range that was able to sting the hands of Alisson. Lastly, the mistake to end all mistakes happened as Van Dijk couldn’t put enough touch to a header back towards his goalkeeper. As a result, Ryan Babel bit the hand that used to feed him and put it past Alisson to tie up the contest out of nowhere.
For a moment, it was as if the Steven Gerrard slip happened all over again for Liverpool. I mean, Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson are the best in the world at their respective positions and are so well known for being so tidy with the ball. For them to mess up like this at this point in the title race had to have been so devastating.
Now note that I said “for a moment” previously. That is because with less then ten minutes to go, Sergio Rico decided to one-up Alisson in doing something even dumber. In one of Mo Salah’s five not-so-great shots, one of them hit the hands of Rico, but instead of catching it, the Spaniard dropped it towards a streaking Mané in hopes to get his second goal of the contest. What happened was Rico holding onto Mané for too long and referee Craig Pawson had no choice but to award a penalty. Up stepped replacement James Milner and the veteran restored order and gave Liverpool the eventual win. I would like to say other things happened, but Liverpool did what they needed to do in ball retention as the did for most of the match to put a bow on this fixture.
Again, Fulham gave it a go. Again, it just wasn’t good enough at all.