Arbeloa Skrtel Carragher Insua
Kuyt Gerrard Dossena
What are the symptoms of a heart attack?
The announcers keep telling me that’s Liverpool’s eighth stoppage-time goal of this season, and I believe it. I guess Benayoun was fit after all.
This game should have been dead and buried by halftime. Four times the woodwork saved Fulham, while Schwartzer saved them twice. Chances were harder to come by in the second half, and the game became a carbon copy of the previous at Anfield. Until Yossi, off the bench for Kuyt in the 76th, won it at the absolute death for what seems to be more than the eighth time this season.
For the first 20 minutes or so, Fulham displayed the type of form that saw them stun United. It was a fairly open game, as Zamora and Johnson tested the offside trap and Dempsey and Konchesky looked to get down Liverpool’s right. But the away side still had the better chances, with Dossena testing Schwartzer, who made a fingertips save in the 10th, and the Italian flicking Skrtel’s drive off the crossbar from the resulting corner.
Fulham could have pulled one over in the 16th when a hospital ball from Skrtel allowed Zamora to run at the defense, but his pass to Johnson didn’t find its target. And the mistake seemed to catalyze Liverpool; from there, the home side barely got a sniff.
And Liverpool really should have taken the chances provided by the increasing dominance. Schwartzer saved Torres’ low shot after the Spaniard linked up with Gerrard in the 23rd, and headed over in the 24th, but it looked only a matter of time.
From there, the woodwork was Fulham’s man of the match. Alonso hit the bar in the 32nd, Torres hit the post in the 35th after a stunning two-man break with Gerrard, and Dossena went back to the crossbar with a diving header in the 37th. If I didn’t have enough on my plate, I’d be tempted to go back and check all my match reviews. I’d bet those four near-goals have doubled the number of times that Liverpool’s hit the woodwork this season.
The second half was every inch the frustrating 0-0 draws of yore until injury time. Unlike the first half, it was standard park-the-bus by the home side. Liverpool had chances, but too often the move broken down in the final third. Still, Torres headed straight at Schwartzer in the 54th, Gerrard’s dangerous cross missed Torres, Kuyt, and Babel in the 73rd, Benayoun deflected Gerrard’s shot just wide in the 81st, and the Israeli shot into the side netting in the 91st. But Benayoun certainly made all the difference at the end, slamming across Schwartzer when the ball fell to him on the right side of the box.
I can’t help but think this match only strengthens my hypothesis that it all comes down to luck, those little inches that decide games. Honestly, in the first half, Liverpool weren’t much worse than in the last three games, which they won by a combined 13-1 margin, and the difference is probably just down to the international break, as per usual. But the frame of the goal stood in the way four times, not to mention the two nice saves by Schwartzer. On any other day, one of those would have gone in. As would one of the opportunities in the second half, although Liverpool clearly grew more frustrated as the match went on.
Dossena starting on the left in attack was a surprise, but he didn’t disappoint, although it would have been nice if one of his three excellent chances went in. He also linked up well with Insua, who delivered another consistent performance. Yossi’s man of the match for the winner, while Gerrard and Torres were involved in the team’s best moments, but Insua deserves to be in contention. Seems as if Benitez was resting both Aurelio and Riera with an eye on Chelsea, and Liverpool didn't suffer for it.
Yossi will get the headlines, and rightfully so, but both he and Babel (who came on for Dossena in the 65th) improved the team. Babel - who played his part in the winner upsets the defense with his pace, and you can’t help but feel he’ll find the final touch he needs.
There’s clearly something special about this team. Going top of the table doesn’t mean much with United’s two games in hands, but it certainly sends a message that the late winner only reinforces. This match can serve as both a huge boost in confidence and a warning to the side. There’s a thin line between success and failure.
So far, there’s been no quit in this team. Let’s hope it lasts over the final seven games.