11 February 2014

Liverpool at Fulham 02.12.14

3pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports Live Extra

Last four head-to-head:
4-0 Liverpool (h) 11.09.13
3-1 Liverpool (a) 05.12.13
4-0 Liverpool (h) 12.22.12
0-1 Fulham (h) 05.01.12

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 5-1 Arsenal (h); 1-1 West Brom (a); 4-0 Everton (h)
Fulham: 2-2 United (a); 0-1 Sheffield Utd aet (h); 0-3 Southampton (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 23; Sturridge 15; Gerrard 6; Sterling 6; Skrtel 4; Coutinho 2; Agger, Flanagan, Henderson, Moses, Sakho 1
Fulham: Sidwell 6; Berbatov 4; Bent, Kasami 3; Parker 2; Dejagah, Kacaniklic, Richardson, Ruiz, Senderos 1

Referee: Phil Dowd

Guess at a line-up:
Flanagan Skrtel Toure Cissokho
Henderson Coutinho
Sterling Suarez Sturridge

Aside from an unlikely return for either Agger or Johnson, both finally back in training, it's again hard to see any changes to the Liverpool XI. Joe Allen could come in for Coutinho, or even Henderson – who fractured his wrist against Arsenal – as suggested prior to Arsenal, but neither of those players deserve to be dropped on form.

Which means we're back to the "home v away form" concern for this XI and formation. What worked so well against Arsenal and Everton – conceding possession, pressing, counter-attacking – didn't work very well agains the likes of West Brom. Or Villa, for that matter, even after Liverpool altered the overly attacking first half formation.

Fulham doesn't have the midfield behemoths that West Brom had; Mulumbu and Yacob were at their club-swinging Neanderthalic best against Liverpool nine days ago. But against lesser opposition, this XI seemed caught in two minds: between pressing its attacking advantage and playing the counter-attack game that's suited them so well of late.

As Noel from Liverpool Offside wrote yesterday, Gerrard's at the center of it, outstanding against Arsenal and Everton, but not so much against Stoke, Villa, Bournemouth, or West Brom. He's been a microcosm of the team performance, trying to live in both worlds: initially sticking to the role required against Arsenal and Everton, but increasingly trying the glorious, trying to dictate play, when Liverpool have struggled to put them to the sword. Similar has been the case for Coutinho. The opposition drops back and defends deep, so Suarez and Sturridge push forward more, Gerrard and Coutinho push forward more, Henderson continues to run around because Henderson runs around, and then gaps open up, and then Liverpool does something stupid.

Needless to say, solving this issue will be the biggest concern. It's an issue that'll reoccur in the future, with trips to Cardiff, West Ham, and Palace, among others, to come. Liverpool are still trying to find that balance, a balance they've been looking for all season long. Injuries have dictated both tactics and formation for long stretches this season, and will continue to do so, but we still don't know Liverpool's best XI or best formation, no matter the opposition.

But let's not mince words. Fulham have been terrible this season, and are propping up the table for good reason. The most losses in the division. The worst goal difference in the division. The fourth fewest goals scored, with a couple more than Palace, Norwich, and Cardiff. They've conceded 55 goals in 25 matches – an average of 2.2 per game – which is 11 more than any other side.

Fulham were also one of the busiest over the January transfer window, allowing Berbatov, Brian Ruiz, Hughes, Taarabt, and Senderos to leave, bringing in Holtby (on loan), Mitroglou, Heitinga, Kvist, Dempsey, and two ex-United youngsters in Tunnicliffe and Larnell Cole.

Mitroglou didn't play against United – he *should* be fit enough to start tomorrow – but Heitinga, Kvist, and Tunnicliffe started, with Cole coming off the bench for the final 10 minutes. There's been a lot of turnover lately, and Meulensteen is unsurprisingly experimenting in the hopes of turning Fulham's season around. So, your guess is as good as mine for the Cottagers' XI tomorrow.

It'll almost certainly be some version of 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1, as that's the formation both Meulensteen and Jol have used all season long. The back five at least seems likely to stay the same: Stekelenberg, Riether, Heitinga, Burn, Riise. Maybe Richardson drops into Riise's position, while it'd be strange to see Hangeland left out in consecutive matches, but Dan Burn was excellent against United and starting two tall, slow-ish players against Sturridge, Suarez, and Sterling seems a bad idea. Sidwell and Holtby will start in midfield, joined by either Parker or Kvist. The flanks? It could be any from Richardson, Tunnicliffe, Duff, Kasami, Kacaniklic, Dejagah, Dempsey, and Cole. Up front? Mitroglou if fit; if not, probably Bent but maybe Tankovic again.

This seems the archetypal trap game. Just as the trip to West Brom was. Just as the trip to Hull was after the encouraging 3-3 draw at Everton, just as hosting Villa was after scoring five at Stoke.

Liverpool sent out a warning to the rest of the league in those first 20 minutes against Arsenal on Saturday. But those performances don't happen often, even from the best sides in history. However, when this Liverpool becomes consistent – not hitting Saturday's heights, just able to perform week in and week out – then the rest of league will actually heed that warning.

Meta: As with Norwich (and a couple other matches this season), I'll be working during the match. So, as with Norwich, most likely no match review. It'll be combined with Thursday's match infographic. Stupid weekday fixtures.


Anonymous said...

Beware the 10-0-0-0 formation with Richardson or the Deucy breaking out from our penalty area on a 90 yard speedster sprint and dinking 2 past Mig. I'm hoping to see Skrtel or Aly pound Deucy into the Craven Cottage dust. Legally and fairly, of course. The Deucy should look strong in the Championship next season. Maybe.

Anonymous said...

It's games like this that could give me a heart attack - insane - reminds me of the 3-2 versus Man City under Rafa when we finished second. Can I dream of doing one better with home wins against Chelsea and City. One game at a time but...

Fan Fubtol said...

For the love of God, can we PLEASE pick up some defenders this summer? Christ.


Anonymous said...

So glad to see Danny Agger make his return. SkAgger gives us our best chance of solving the riddle of away D.

We're within touching distance of top 3 and have Spurs breathing on our necks close behind. We'll have to keep our nerve in the final third of the season. Home form will have to stay imperious. Away form we have to find clean sheets.

Makes me laugh to see Everton above United with Moyes close to imploding. Everything is right with the world again. Fulham equalizing at OT in OT and us finding the winner at Craven Cottage in Extra time.