No Torres, no cutting edge, no Champions League

Liverpool 0-0 Fulham
Sunday, 11th April 2010

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There has been little doubt all season that Liverpool have developed an unhealthy over-reliance on the fitness and form of their key players. None more so than Fernando Torres, and the goals which are inherent whenever he plays. This over-dependence was exposed once more against Fulham at Anfield. Dealing a probable fatal blow to the Reds chances of a top four finish.

If the 1-1 draw away to Birmingham City was viewed as a significant knock to Liverpool’s chances of Champions League football next season. Then this latest stalemate appears consigned to be viewed as the knockout blow.

This was a game the Reds needed to win and one which they expected to win. Yet, against an admittedly stubborn, if one-dimensional, Fulham side the hosts were frustrated time and again through a lack to cutting edge in the final third.

It is an easy observation to make, but if an aforementioned Spanish striker had been fit and available he would certainly have gone a long way to supplying that cutting edge. If that were the case then this article may well have taken a different slant on the game.

This just seemed to take on the semblance of one of those games were the Reds would not have found the back of the net had they played for five hours. Roy Hodgson’s side came to Anfield intent on a draw. And showed little aspiration for anything more; as one shot in the 91st minute testifies.

The Reds controlled proceedings throughout a tense and frustrating match, played out almost exclusively in the Fulham half. Yet, having failed to make an early and calm the tension, genuine chances became increasingly limited.

Liverpool struggled to find the right tempo and creativity early on in the first half against a stubborn and well organised opposition. Having said that, there were chances for the Reds to break the deadlock in the opening period.

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Alberto Aquilani was involved in many of the Reds best chances, in a rare start for the midfielder. First, Steven Gerrard teed up the Italian from Glen Johnson’s cross and he did well to improvise with an overhead kick, which Mark Schwarzer palmed away. Later, Aquilani forced the Schwarzer into action again from 20-yards, the Australian tipping over his cross. Before firing an effort harmlessly wide.

Sandwiched between those efforts there were half chances, first the ineffective David N’Gog lashed his only real opportunity high and wide. The young Frenchman is hard done by at times and should not be expected to fill the huge void left by Torres’s absence, yet he failed to take his opportunity here and prove his doubters wrong.

Then Maxi Rodriguez was denied when he perhaps should have done better having for once created space in the penalty area. Soon after, Schwarzer had to be alert once again to deal with Javier Mascherano’s excellent 25-yard half volley from a corner. As Liverpool enjoyed their best spell of concerted pressure in the game.
But without Torres at the pinnacle of the attack it became clear that the Reds were lacking a cutting edge and spark to unlock the Cottagers defence. As the second half progressed the pattern of play suggested the Reds were almost consigned to their fate. A moment of magic from a Steven Gerrard or a bad defensive error seemed the only likely avenue to victory.

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A Ryan Babel effort from wide left almost snuck into Schwarzer’s near post. But that was as close as Liverpool got to beating the Fulham stopper in the second half. The substitutions arrived and one substitute, Dirk Kuyt, set up Sotirios Kyrgiakos, who flashed a header over. But still no respite from the tension in the stands. Strangely Rafa opted to withdraw Aquilani, one man who seemed capable of fashioning something with the game so tight in the centre of the field.

Fulham had there first and only shot of the match in the 91st minute. Pepe Reina pushing away Damien Duff’s strong drive. But the visitors had long since done there job and escaped with a point.

Many had built this game up as a precursor to a potential Europa League Final meeting. Disappointingly it now seems that particular competition is all Liverpool have left to play for this season following this frustrating, yet predictable, result. It can only be hoped that Roy Hodgson’s men do not get a second chance to inflict damage on the Reds faltering season before May is out.

Man of the Match
Few players were able to provide the sort of attacking spark and energy that the Reds were crying out for. But all areas of Mascherano’s game were excellent again and he even carried an attacking threat on occasions.

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