It’s hard to complain when Liverpool comes out in an expected line-up, with a similar mix of youth and reserves players as played last Saturday, and got a similar result. But today was a more disjointed and lackadaisical performance, and all in all, a lot more frustrating.
This game should have been over long before Clint Dempsey’s goal against the run of play in the 69th minute, Fulham’s first real opportunity. Just in the first half, Craig Bellamy had 3 excellent chances, Robbie Fowler missed a sitter, and Michael Brown channeled Zidane right into Xabi Alonso’s face with Steve Bennett’s back turned and the linesman on the opposite side of the field oblivious.
I don’t want to appear to be blaming the referee, because he wasn’t the reason Liverpool lost, but that was one of many things that Bennett missed today. Papa Bouba Diop was sent off for his second yellow card with just about the last kick of the game, but he should have marched sooner, as should have Brown, not even considering his headbutt. It was almost as if Bennett felt guilty over the last Liverpool game he was in charge of, where he gave two soft penalties to Liverpool, and called pretty much everything Fulham’s way.
But Liverpool’s profligacy was the major concern. Not only did Bellamy have more than a few openings, mostly coming in the first half, but there was Fowler’s dreadful miss, a goal he would have scored 100 times out of a 100 five years ago, which he came close to replicating in the second half, and Paletta’s header rightfully ruled out for offside. Sad to say, Robbie was especially disappointing, and it’s clear we’re currently seeing the last of him in a Liverpool shirt. In total, Liverpool had 14 corners, twice as many shots as Fulham, greater possession, and nearly all the better opportunities. Even for a team not used to playing together, that’s unacceptable.
There was a hint of offside to Dempsey’s goal, and it was very close, but it looked to me as if Arbeloa played Rosenior on for his cross that Dempsey directed into the net, giving Reina no chance. Regardless, it shouldn’t have come to that; Dempsey should have been shut down by Alonso or Insua before squeezing the ball through to Rosenior.
Speaking of Insua, I probably should speak further on him after promoting so much last week. Yes, he was caught out a couple of times, and was called for fouls that an experienced player wouldn’t have been whistled for, but again he showed good smarts and a willingness to get forward before he was substituted for Finnan, with Arbeloa moving over to the left.
I can’t help but criticize after a performance like that; it really was both dire and frustrating. But looking at the big picture, which is really the only consolation, what was needed was achieved. Young players got another look in. There’s the aforementioned Insua, El Zhar came on as a sub for Pennant in the 65th minute, and I also thought that Paletta played a fair bit better than he has in the past. Everyone came away healthy. There were scares for Sissoko, Gonzalez, and Reina for moments, not to mention Xabi’s bloody mug, but all came out unscathed. And Harry Kewell got his requisite 15 minutes or so, looking lively at times.
Hyypia put in a typically solid Sami performance, and is probably the man of the match. Although Fulham created very few chances, without Hyypia’s towering presence, they well could have had more. Alonso and Sissoko also combined well in midfield against a Fulham midfield looking to stick the boot in and chop down at every opportunity, with Xabi doing the most to try and put his stamp on the game and make something happen.
Benitez was never going to play a first choice team, and rightfully so. And games like this can happen with 9 changes to the first team. And not to play down a loss, any loss, but this really means very little, as much as it annoys. Maybe next week will be different, with more of the usual starting 11 getting a game to keep fit with 10 days to recover before the Champions League final, especially with that game at Anfield, but not today. Yes, Liverpool should have won, should have taken the lead from their first half chances, and should have gotten more from the officials. But it didn’t happen. We’ll see if Arsenal takes advantage against Chelsea tomorrow in the race for 3rd place, but even then, 3rd place comes nowhere near to taking precedence over May 23rd. This game’s done, time to take away the few positives, put the rest out of memory and move on.