Arbeloa Carragher Hyypia Aurelio
Benayoun Gerrard Mascherano Riise
Gerrard 85’ (pen)
Fernando Torres, how we have missed you. Now that’s what a match winner can do.
Of course Benitez named an unchanged side for what I think is only the second time in 4 seasons. And of course it led to Liverpool playing excellent football, but unable to break down Fulham until the last ten minutes.
Fulham was always capable of this. It’s become common for them to be solid for the first half and frequently take a lead, only the struggle as the game goes on. Healy and Dempsey are lively on the counter, and Bouazza provided more of the same after he came on.
And I guess it’s little surprise that Liverpool would struggle to break the deadlock after winning 8-0 last time out. It’s not as if Liverpool was poor -- it was just the too-frequent struggle to break down the opposition, even if the movement and passing wasn’t much worse than Tuesday’s performance. It’s just that Fulham are completely different opposition than Besiktas were. There was nowhere near the amount of space or bit of luck (Crouch hit the crossbar in first half injury time) that Liverpool had on Tuesday, and Antti Niemi did his part in goal as well, with excellent saves on attempts by Hyypia, Aurelio, Voronin, and Benayoun.
But Liverpool stepped it up in the second half, and the substitutions put Liverpool over the top. Babel (for Riise), Torres (for Voronin), and Lucas (for Mascherano) all played their parts. None more so than Torres.
In the 81st minute, with Liverpool pressing forward without pause and Fulham struggling to keep pace, Reina’s long ball over the top found Torres. With some fancy footwork he carved out space for the shot and sent it inside the near post. The difference a £20m striker can make.
The first goal always changes the game. Always. The longer Fulham was able to keep Liverpool out, the more it reinforced their belief and the more desperate the home side became. And less than 4 minutes after the opener, Gerrard had slotted home a penalty won by Crouch’s run onto Babel’s throughball (yes, contact started outside the box, but it continued into the penalty area, which is where Crouch went down), and the match was done and dusted.
After 80 minutes, I (along with everyone else I imagine) was frustrated beyond belief. Despite the amount of possession, despite the fact Liverpool was trying to play pass and move football, and despite the fact they utterly bossed the match, it was still 0-0, and we’d been here before.
But again, that’s the difference that Torres can make. It’s also worth noting that last week I was complaining about Liverpool’s inability to get the late goal in a deadlock, which is a trait the team needs to have on a consistent basis.
It’s even more relieving that Liverpool comes away with all 3 points because the players’ performances absolutely merited it. Much like after the Besiktas match, I’ve little to complain about. Some players may not have played to Tuesday’s level, but all of them were up for it.
I’ve already said enough about Torres, but the other subs deserve plaudits as well. Babel may still have a tendency to run down blind alleys, but his pace is blistering and he clearly troubled Fulham’s defense. Lucas again demonstrated his cool head, and has an excellent eye for the pass, especially in the opposition’s half.
Once again, Voronin had an outstanding match. Along with his much-lauded workrate and vision, his strength continues to amaze. Time and time again he muscled defenders off the ball and kept or won possession for Liverpool. Crouch didn’t get as many opportunities on goal, but was a willing runner, especially out wide to try and bring others into the attack. And Gerrard is finally looking his usual self again.
The few times that Fulham did threaten -- and they had a chance within the first minute through Danny Murphy -- Carragher and Hyypia were there to cut out the threat. Both were immense today, and despite Torres’ goal, Hyypia’s probably the man of the match. Reina also had to make a couple of tough saves, most notably on a couple of Murphy attempts, and did so with aplomb. In addition, his assist highlights how effective he can be distributing the ball.
Once again, the international break comes at an inopportune time. The team’s playing good football, and players are either back to fitness or nearing it. It’s almost the middle of November, and Liverpool’s still unbeaten in the league.
It goes without saying how important it is that players return from international duty intact, and Liverpool continues in this vein of form. Newcastle on the 24th.