Fulham 2-5 Liverpool
Monday, 10th May 2011
One image from Monday evening summed up the ethos of this Liverpool team at present as good as any.
In the 88th minute, with the Reds cruising to an empathic 5-2 victory, Luis Suarez bust a gut to race onto the end of a pass, glided past Aaron Hughes; before obstinately complaining that the Reds were not awarded a penalty kick when the ball struck the arm of a Fulham defender from his resulting cross. A penalty which would have made little, or no, difference to the overall result.
This truly is a Liverpool team transformed. Be it the return of Kenny Dalglish, the shrewd capture of Steve Clarke, the arrival of Luis Suarez, a change in tactical approach or just general attitude. Whatever the reason for the metronomic resurgence of Liverpool during a few short months; there is one thing which is beyond doubt – this is a team on the rise and one with genuine aspirations of a challenge for honours next season.
And ‘emphatic’ is the most fitting adjective with which to describe this victory. The ease and manner in which Liverpool stroked the ball around the Craven Cottage pitch and simply outplayed their hosts could not be in starker contrast to the fare previously witnessed by Liverpool fans under the guidance of a certain former Fulham manager.
Jamie Carragher made an incredible 666th appearance at Craven Cottage – taking him to second place in the club’s all-time appearances list. But there can have been few away fixtures during his mammoth career which have been won as emphatically as this one.
Liverpool made their intentions clear within the first 30 seconds. And never looked back thereafter. Maxi Rodriguez added to his astonishing recent glut of goals scoring the quickest goal of any player in the current Premier League season.
The diminutive Argentine tucking the ball into the back of Mark Schwarzer’s net after the ball had fortunately deflected into his path from Suarez’s initial effort.
By the 16 minute mark the visitors were incredibly three goals to the good. Maxi continued his extremely handy knack of turning up in the right place at the right time for his second. Side-footing, the excellent, Glen Johnson’s pin-point cross first time into the corner of Schwarzer’s net.
Before Dirk Kuyt was rather fortunate to score his 15th of the season. The Dutchman profiting from an uncharacteristic misjudgement from the Australian ‘keeper.
The game was all but over as a contest at that point. However, there was still time for Fulham to hit back early in the second half through Moussa Dembele. Later, Suarez grabbed a thoroughly deserved goal in the 75th minute. Rounding the Fulham ‘keeper and slotting home, following an excellent through-ball from substitute, Jonjo Shelvey.
Prior to that, Maxi had completed his hat-trick. His 7th goal in three games was the best of the lot. Striking the ball nonchalantly into the roof of the net from distance. Maxi may well have just played his way into Dalglish’s plans for next season.
Steve Sidwell produced something equally as impressive to pull another goal back late on for Mark Hughes’ men. Be it too little too late for the home side.
The headlines have been all about Maxi of late – and justifiably so. But it is the movement and work ethic of the likes of Kuyt, Raul Meireles and, particularly Suarez, which has presented Maxi with the opportunity to come of the fore.
The work rate, intensity and intelligence of the Liverpool front pairing of Kuyt and Suarez was a joy to behold for the travelling Liverpool fans. Neither gave the Fulham defence a moment’s peace, on an evening to forget for a home side which had previously boasted a fairly formidable record at Craven Cottage.
Maxi’s goals won the match once again. But it was the work of those around him which allowed him the space and opportunities to take his chances. So much so that – as has been said previously – on current evidence, the once again absent, Andy Carroll will have his work cut-out breaking back into this Liverpool side.
Maxi and Suarez are the stars of the moment for Dalglish’s Liverpool. But there are a multitude of other players within the Reds ranks whom it would be fair to judge are playing their best football to date in a Liverpool shirt. Glen Johnson, Dirk Kuyt, Lucas Leiva and Jay Spearing could all fall into that category. All exuded confidence and class again.
The fact that Liverpool are performing so emphatically, week-in-week-out, in the absence of some keys players, can only be credited to the influence of the newly assembled backroom staff. Afterall this is the same group of players which were adjudged so inadequate earlier in the season – with the exception of the hugely influential Suarez.
Having plundered an impressive haul of 13 goals from three games, the Reds are now in pole position to secure the final Europa League qualification berth. Irrespective of personal opinions on that particular competition; Liverpool should be, under all circumstances, looking to finish as high up the league table as possible.
In fact, the Reds late season form keeps alive hopes of a miraculous Champions League qualification – however slim of course. The mere fact that the Reds can consider themselves in contention at all with two matches remaining is an indicator of the ample progress made. Who would have predicted that would be on the agenda just a few months ago?
Man of the Match
Difficult not to award it to Maxi again, following a second hat-trick in 3 games. But, if one man can overshadow the achievements of the Argentine, it is Suarez. Simply phenomenal again.