Liverpool produced a very different performance in either half in an eventual draw away to Fulham on Sunday evening.
Fulham 1-1 Liverpool
Premier League, Craven Cottage
December 13, 2020
Goals: Decordova-Reid 25′; Salah pen 78′
First away day in front of fans
It was against Liverpool, but still kind of nice to hear! The impact wasn’t great for Reds, though. The start of the game was ferocious from Fulham, men pouring forward, snapping into tackles, not letting the Reds settle.
All of it stemmed from the backdrop of the supporters egging the players on, cheering every challenge and generally having that unreasonably optimistic sound that only excited home supporters can generate at the start of a long-anticipated match.
It worked, too. The Reds couldn’t get started, they couldn’t find their passing range, they were slow to release the ball – almost as though they were too used to the sterile, unpressurised environment that away days have been over the past few months.
Jurgen Klopp was fuming, roaring wake up at his players and beating his chest on the touchline, but it was already 1-0 to Fulham by that point.
We’ve heard of the Anfield atmosphere on European nights down the years, 45,000 (and more in the last couple of years) fans screaming in unison and shell-shocking the opposition into going a goal or two down.
This time it was in reverse, and while it was only 2,000, it still showed the considerable power that any supporters in the ground has over absolutely none – just as we saw for Anfield’s first game back with fans last week.
Concerns pile up again
In many clubs, it’s commonly accepted that the manager has more players at his disposal than the club’s head of medical, but Liverpool are rewriting the rules.
Ahead of the game, Klopp confirmed that Jota and Tsimikas are likely to face between six and eight weeks out with knee injuries, while there was no sign of Naby Keita in the matchday 18 after his own midweek comeback appearance.
At half-time, the good news kept coming: Joel Matip subbed off, with Sky reporting a back injury minutes later.
Setting aside Klopp’s decision to put Henderson at the back for this occasion, it does beg the question of what the team sheet is going to look like against Spurs and beyond.
Son and Kane have been one of the most impressive attacking acts in all of Europe this season, never mind the Premier League, so Nat Phillips or Rhys Williams may well face the biggest test of their careers in the coming days.
Tough return for Trent
Almost 70 minutes for Trent here, in addition to his game time in Denmark in midweek.
He’s quickly rebuilding match fitness, but on the evidence of this game, match rhythm is still a way off.
The right-back had a bit of a shocker, putting over one or two good deliveries from wide and set-pieces, but being really slack with his first touch, unable to stop Ademola Lookman down the wing and generally looking off the pace of the game.
It’s entirely expected – he has missed games, missed training sessions, not really been in a match of this intensity since the Man City game – over a month ago.
That all means he can take time, like any player after injury, to hit his best levels, and it’s just unfortunate that his return coincided with a team playing their best performance of the season on a slippy, tricky pitch.
Curtis Jones steps up
Easily the Reds’ best player in the second half, Curtis Jones was the man in Red who took the game to Fulham.
His close control and surprising strength allowed him to keep turning away from the challenge, opening up space in midfield and surging into it – but importantly he also picked a good decision at the end.
Some of the time it was a simple pass, but the right one, keeping Liverpool moving on the front foot. Other times it was a fizzed, short ball which demanded a wall pass, regaining possession himself to keep searching out the opening.
And once, late in the second half, he almost won the match single-handedly, beating three defenders and shooting low, only for the excellent Alphonse Areola to make the save.
In the absence of any other creativity or drive through the final third – only Sadio Mane came close to offering it on a regular basis – Jones was the one who kept the team pushing forward for the win throughout.
Chance missed at the top
Everything was in place for the Reds to go clear at the top, open up a bit of space between themselves and the rest and remind everyone that Liverpool are the team to catch.
Perfect timing, then, for the Reds to produce their worst 45 minutes of the season since the Villa debacle.
Salah’s penalty brought the Reds back on terms, ensuring no ground would be lost at least, but there was simply no time and no way through for the three points.
Not the end of the world, but an opportunity missed all the same.