Liverpool battled their way to a nervy 2-1 victory at struggling Fulham on Sunday, with a positive result tinged with a few negative aspects.
Fulham 1-2 Liverpool
Premier League, Craven Cottage
March 17, 2019
Goals: Mane 26′, Milner pen 81′; Babel 74′
Milner’s Winning Mentality
James Milner is one of only two Liverpool players with a Premier League winners’ medal—Daniel Sturridge is the other—with the Reds’ lack of winning experience something many see as a shortcoming in their title quest.
Sure, others have won trophies abroad, with Fabinho lifting the Ligue 1 title with Monaco for example, but Milner is a figure the Reds often look to in big moments.
One of the most mentally resolute players in the squad, it was no surprise to see the 33-year-old step up when it really mattered, stroking home a vital penalty late on.
In truth, his second-half cameo was far from outstanding—his sliced clearance played a part in a calamitous equaliser—but few players are more nerveless from 12 yards.
Solo Salah Looking Desperate
Mohamed Salah‘s performances have been nowhere near as bad as some have claimed recently, with key contributions made despite his goalscoring drought.
The 26-year-old experienced a disappointing day against Fulham, however, and it is increasingly clear that his desperation for a 50th Premier League goal for Liverpool is taking its toll.
It never happened for Salah at any point on Sunday and he was guilty of being greedy in the final third, seemingly opting for personal milestones over his team’s success.
That may sound harsh, but the Egyptian needs to get this drought out of his head.
It is threatening to be to the detriment of his team-mates, and such is his brilliance as a footballer there is no doubting that the goals will flow again soon.
A golden opportunity late on summed up his current plight, but a key positive is that he continues to get himself in those positions.
Complacency on Show?
Liverpool’s trip to Craven Cottage was meant to be a saunter in the spring sunshine, especially with confidence flowing after the midweek victory at Bayern Munich.
Despite controlling matters throughout though, the Reds were far too complacent as the minutes ticked by, with 1-0 always a horribly dangerous scoreline.
Anything can happen when you are only a goal up, and fortunately, Sergio Rico’s late foul on Sadio Mane and Milner’s subsequent spot-kick saved Liverpool’s blushes.
It is wrong to sound too negative on a day when the Reds went top of the Premier League, but this must be a warning sign ahead of the final seven league games of the season.
Van Dijk’s “Weakness” Exposed?
Van Dijk has been a monstrous presence this season, putting together one of the great campaigns by a Liverpool defender.
Much of the talk in the buildup to the game was regarding former Reds winger Ryan Babel’s comments about Van Dijk having a “weakness.”
“He does have a weakness, I don’t want to say what it is. I don’t think in the Premier League anyone has made that aware yet,” said Babel.
Could it be that that weakness is his casual nature?
That was certainly on show when Babel capitalised on a limp header back by his Netherlands team-mate, eventually tapping into an empty net after similarly poor work by Alisson.
Van Dijk is the world’s best centre-back at the moment—one error shouldn’t change that—but if there is one minor criticism it is that he is almost too laid back for his own good sometimes, and that is something he himself has acknowledged.
Hopefully, that is the last mistake we see from him in an otherwise unrivalled season.
Pressure on City
Right, let’s finish on a positive, seeing as Liverpool won!
Results are all that matter at this point in the season, and after experiencing the disappointment of the Fulham equaliser it was an impressive response by the Reds.
Three points were imperative at Craven Cottage and the win means Klopp’s team take a two-point lead over City, having played a game more.
While the champions remain favourites to retain their title in May, there is now a mental pressure on them heading into the international break.
Liverpool have done all they can to make them work for it, and it will be interesting to see how City respond when they themselves head to Fulham on March 30.
Pressure can do funny things.
We can all take a deep breath for a few weeks while the players head off to represent their countries—fingers crossed no injuries are picked up—and we go again at home to Tottenham in a fortnight.