Skrtel (OG) 6'
Well, that was embarrassing. On Hodgson's big day, a performance reminiscent of his horrific tenure, against another of his former clubs.
Because of Liverpool's multiple, frequent failures earlier this season, the result's basically meaningless. That's not what's so infuriating. Liverpool have lost in more frustrating or more disappointing fashion before. And yes, with nine changes, it was a very unfamiliar side, albeit with more than a few senior and u21 internationals. Holding them to a similar standard as the first team isn't fair.
But the hope was out-of-favor players would aim to impress, to force their way into Saturday's line-up. That most certainly did not happen. Liverpool were dire, Fulham were dire, and an absolutely torpid game was settled by yet more Liverpool misfortune.
It was the worse possible start in normal matches, let alone one with an unfamiliar, weakened line-up. Within six minutes, two ex-Liverpool players contributed to a Liverpool own goal: Riise's smashed cross deflecting off Kacaniklic, wrong-footing Doni by bouncing off Skrtel's shoulder. Such is this season.
Doni smartly prevented Pogrebnyak from extending the lead while Liverpool still struggled to settle, but the home side began to come to terms with the match. Some still looked disinterested, some continued to play wholly terribly, but Liverpool at least began creating chances. Kuyt, Shelvey, and Carroll all nearly pulled Liverpool level, but Kuyt's rebound volley was wide of the far post, Shelvey's effort spilled past Schwarzer but was cleared off the line, and Carroll's header from Aurelio's cross was too close to the goal-keeper. Coincidentally, those are the three players who actually seemed to be trying to play their way into Saturday's XI.
There were even fewer redeeming moments in the second half. Liverpool changed formation and personnel, bringing on Downing for Henderson, most likely to protect the latter before the cup final, although he hadn't impressed much either. But the switch to 4-4-2 only increased Liverpool's incoherence: Shelvey was pulled further from the final third, reducing his effectiveness; Carroll and Kuyt failed to find the same wavelength; and the less said about Downing, the better, as is all too often the case. Spearing, who had his worst match for Liverpool, without comparison, was even more exposed in a midfield duo.
The lone concrete opportunity to pull level came in the 58th minute, when Maxi got in behind, was fouled but played the advantage, only to have Hangeland block his shot at the last possible moment. Sterling's entrance in the 76th gave Anfield a boost, but by that point, Liverpool were lumping route one passes and deep crosses in the direction of Carroll hoping for something to fall out of the sky. Which rendered any potential impact from Sterling rather moot. Otherwise, only Doni and the width of the post prevented Fulham from adding to the score line. Liverpool had the majority of possession, but that was as much due to Fulham's supreme comfort with just a goal advantage.
Carroll worked incredibly hard, and was very good in the air when pulling deep, but continued to look hopeless when nearing goal. Doni made some good saves. Aurelio, while supremely rusty, delivered some very Aurelio crosses; it was surprising to see him removed for Enrique with 25 minutes to play. It's not like he's being rested for anything. Shelvey created some havoc when deployed as an attacking midfielder, Sterling provided a modicum of hope for the future. That's all I got.
Today's totality of awfulness just puts even more pressure on the next match. Yes, it's been "FA Cup or bust" for some time. Now, five points behind Everton, just three points ahead of 10th, it's FA Cup or nuclear meltdown. Liverpool have three losses and a draw in the last four matches at Anfield, against the 9th, 10th, 15th, and 16th placed sides in the league. Fulham have done the double over Liverpool for the first time in forever, because it's the first time Fulham have ever beaten Liverpool at Anfield. We're breaking all sorts of records this season.
Still, I'd be able to look past all that, albeit grudgingly, had the performance – more specifically, the effort – not been so unforgivably terrible from the majority in red. Win Saturday or find a bomb shelter.