Johnson Carragher Kyrgiakos Agger
Maxi Gerrard Babel
Well, I can’t even pretend that fourth is possible despite a draw in the last five matches anymore. This is one of the matches that couldn’t be drawn. But it’s 0-0, just like last season, even though beating 10 men behind the ball at Anfield was one of the few things this year’s side had done well. Unfortunately, unlike last year’s side, they don’t score late goals. And evidently what goes around does not come around.
Yes, it’s Liverpool’s fault that they couldn't break down the bus parkers – and they had chances – but you can’t help compare Jonathan Greening staying on the field 10 minutes before halftime with the two red cards Liverpool incurred in the reverse fixture. That’s this season in a nutshell.
Also adequately summing up this season was the disparity in possession and attempts on goal without reaping any rewards. Liverpool had something like two-thirds of the possession and 24 shots (seven on target) compared to Fulham’s three.
Initially probing the opposition, Liverpool saw a scramble cleared off the line and two half-chances for Ngog wide in the first 15 minutes. Midway through the first half had a 90-second spell where Liverpool should have went in front. Aquilani bicycled straight at Schwarzer, seeming somewhat surprised to receive Gerrard’s cutback. Maxi then ghosted in for the Italian’s ball over the top, only to see Schwarzer save with his legs. That was followed up by Aquilani heading Babel’s floated cross over the bar.
A Mascherano blast from distance, again well saved by Schwarzer, prefaced the inevitable controversy. Greening, already on a yellow, cynical blocked off Johnson charging down the right. In front of a baying Kop, Marriner decided a stern lecture would suffice. Had Greening been unpunished to that point, I guarantee he’d have been booked. Nice work. Again, I can’t help but think back to Degen and Carragher’s dismissals at Craven Cottage.
But from there, the team can certainly be blamed for its inability to break down two determined bands of four. The inclusion of Aquilani, Maxi, and Babel at the expense of Lucas, Kuyt, and Benayoun demonstrated Liverpool’s intent, but intent wasn’t enough. Obviously, Torres was dearly missed, but that he didn’t even make the bench should answer any lingering questions over why he was taken off at Birmingham. Ngog’s in for a lot of rightful criticism, but it’s more an indictment of the state of the club that he’s the second-choice striker. What money was Benitez going use on another forward? Liverpool went broke replacing Alonso, Arbeloa, and Hyypia.
Still, you can’t help but look at the amount of possession and the number of chances, which naturally heightened in the second half. Schwarzer tipped Aquilani’s 50th-minute curler over the bar and saved Babel’s brilliant near post strike in the 63rd. Ngog and Kyrgiakos missed free headers in the 69th and 77th. And Pacheco, on for Ngog as a last throw of the dice after Kuyt replaced Aquilani and Benayoun came on for Babel, saw his shot on target blocked four minutes from full time.
And in complete contrast to last season’s late winners, Fulham had the lone chance in injury time, with Reina finally called into action by Duff’s stinging shot. That was the away side’s lone shot on target.
Liverpool had enough chances to win, so I guess we have to credit a resilient Fulham and an excellent Schwarzer. But you can’t help but be frustrated with the inability to score goals in the absence of Torres, especially with Ngog under-performing. No one really played well outside of Mascherano and Johnson, but I’m most inclined to look in Gerrard's direction. For all of Liverpool’s shots, Gerrard never had any on goal, with two or three from distance charged down by defenders.
As I write this, City leads Birmingham 3-1 at halftime. Assuming they hold on, they’ll be six points ahead of Liverpool with a game in hand. Their last five games are vs United, at Arsenal, vs Villa, vs Tottenham, and at West Ham. Chances are they aren’t losing all five, even if all five pose threats – including a West Ham team that might need a win to stay up. At best, Liverpool can get to 68 points, but must beat West Ham (h), Burnley (a), Chelsea (h), and Hull (a) to so do. Given goal difference, City only need two wins (or a win and four draws) to claim fourth. Tottenham’s needs are similar with a schedule of vs Arsenal, vs Chelsea, at United, vs Bolton, at City, and at Burnley.
Mathematically, it’s not over. But it’s over. All the team can do is finish strongly for pride, which might lead to a Europa League spot (yay!). And as fans, all we can do now is work towards getting Hicks and Gillett out, new investment, and – at least in my opinion – real backing for Benitez. And hope that this summer doesn't doom the club.