MATCHDAY PROGRAMME

“Shudder at the thought” – How ‘retooled’ Liverpool midfield could punish Fulham

Liverpool face a must-win Premier League game at home to Fulham this weekend, but where can the Cottagers hurt their opponents?

The Reds earned an excellent 1-1 draw away to Man City last Saturday, coming from behind to outline their title credentials at the Etihad.

Next up for Jurgen Klopp‘s side is a game that they simply have to win, with Fulham a dangerous team on their day, but one with limitations.

Liverpool have won all six home league games this season and failure to make it seven would be a major blow to their hopes of being champions in 2023/24.

Ahead of Sunday’s match, TIA’s Henry Jackson spoke with Fulham fan and regular opposition contributor Kyle Bonn (@the_bonnfire) to discuss the Cottagers’ season, the Reds’ title hopes and more.

 

How would you assess Fulham’s start to the season?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 12, 2023: Fulham's manager Marco Silva during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Fulham FC at Goodison Park. Fulham won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

They’ve honestly done better than I thought. I was worried that this Fulham team would regress from last season and be a relegation candidate.

They’ve struggled to defend in situations, as I expected, but they have managed to remain dangerous up front, which has been a pleasant surprise, even in the wake of Aleksandar Mitrovic’s departure.

They still need a striker, but Willian continues to defy logic as well as Father Time, and that’s proving the difference thus far.

 

What is your main aim for the season at this point?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, May 3, 2023: Fulham's Harry Wilson during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Fulham FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Avoiding relegation is always the focus, but with so many truly awful sides at the bottom of the Premier League table this year, it feels logical to aim a bit higher.

Reaching the top half would be a dream, but that also seems out of reach.

At this point, staying healthy, bringing along a few good youth players, and finishing 10th-13th would mark a successful season.

 

Who has starred and disappointed for Fulham so far this season?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, May 3, 2023: Fulham's Willian Borges da Silva during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Fulham FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Willian has been the star of the show this year. With Mitrovic gone, and both Raul Jimenez and Carlos Vinicius nothing more than black holes up front, the ageless Brazilian has been instrumental in Fulham’s success.

It seems patently absurd that the club continues to rely on someone who could disintegrate into ash at any moment, but for now, it’s getting the job done.

Antonee Robinson also remains integral to everything that Marco Silva does with this club.

His performances for both club and country should eventually earn him a big-money move to a larger club, but Fulham have not planned well and have been forced to rebuff advances with nobody waiting in the wings to replace him, which is a mistake.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 6, 2022: Fulham's manager Marco Silva (L) and Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the FA Premier League match between Fulham FC and Liverpool FC at Craven Cottage. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The biggest disappointment has been Issa Diop. With Tosin Adarabioyo hurt and Calvin Bassey still developing, he has been nowhere close to justifying his hefty transfer fee.

Diop is now out injured, and thankfully Adarabioyo is back fit, so the back line gets a needed boost.

Tim Ream has understandably regressed from his wonder campaign last year, but remains a faithful club servant and is still putting in shifts.

Jimenez is a big disappointment, but that was always meant to be a low-risk, high-reward type move that simply didn’t work out.

 

What’s one thing you would change at the club?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 6, 2022: A general view before the FA Premier League match between Fulham FC and Liverpool FC at Craven Cottage. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Building depth as a bottom-half Premier League side is always challenging, but the scouting department has failed miserably to look to the future.

The club’s two biggest sellable assets, Robinson and Joao Palhinha, should be eyeing big-money moves elsewhere.

The club should be planning for a sale, but they’ve become too important to the performances on the field to sell. That’s not how you do good business at this level.

Fulham need to capitalise on their most valuable assets at the height of their value and to do that, you must replace them adequately on the pitch. Because there is nobody to step in at either position, they are unable to sell.

That’s damaging long-term, and I hope they take steps to find answers at those positions before their value diminishes.

 

What’s your take on VAR? In favour of it?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 30, 2023: A goal scored by Liverpool's Luis Díaz, given on the pitch as offside, is mistakenly confiemd by VAR who believe the onfield decision was a goal, during the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Well isn’t that handy! Shameless self-promotion: Instead of re-hashing my biggest talking points, I’ll direct you to something I wrote very recently on this topic.

I toured the Bundesliga VAR studio in Cologne and spoke to American rules analyst Christina Unkel, who regularly appears on CBS’s Champions League and Serie A coverage in the United States.

I’m absolutely in favour of VAR, but massive changes are needed. I detailed what those changes are below:

How to fix VAR: Is football replay review system broken beyond repair? Behind-the-scenes Bundesliga visit may hold the answers | Sporting News

 

Looking at Liverpool, how you do assess their title chances?

I think Liverpool have a real shot at the title, and I’m not just saying that to appease the masses here.

Most clubs would have withered under the number of punches the Reds have taken this year on multiple fronts (injury, officiating, etc), but they have persevered through it all thanks to the exceptional depth and great coaching.

Darwin Nunez has taken another step from year one to year two with the club, the midfield is completely reinvented, and Mohamed Salah remains a world-class player.

This team has the makings of a title contender — my only concern is the defensive unit, which has shown slightly more vulnerability this season than in previous years.

 

What do you think has changed with the Reds from last season?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 2, 2023: Liverpool's Alexis Mac Allister (L) and Dominik Szoboszlai after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Aston Villa FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

If anyone else answers something other than the midfield, they’re sorely mistaken.

Have we ever seen a retool of this calibre in a single off-season in recent memory? I think not.

Ryan Gravenberch, Dominik Szoboszlai, Alexis Mac Allister, Wataru Endo – are you kidding me? Utterly brilliant business.

Gravenberch is a brilliant player who would be flourishing at any other club, but instead, he has been forced to kick down the door amidst a loaded Liverpool squad, and he’s done just that.

Szoboszlai and Mac Allister are both players who aren’t afraid to do the dirty work and let others hog the spotlight, and Endo is as good as you can expect from a purely squad role.

Add in the youth players like Curtis Jones and Stefan Bajcetic (who I rate VERY highly) and my goodness, what a turnaround from the swiss cheese on Jurgen Klopp’s teamsheet last season.

 

Where will the key battles take place on Sunday?

LINZ, AUSTRIA - Thursday, September 21, 2023: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (L) celebrates with team-mate Luis Díaz after scoring the third goal during the UEFA Europa League Group E matchday 1 game between LASK and Liverpool FC at the Raiffeisen Arena. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In the Fulham defensive third. I’m not looking forward to watching the likes of Bassey handle the Liverpool wingers cutting inside while their midfielders also push up to the top of the penalty area.

I’m not terribly worried about the full-backs dealing with moves out wide, but Palhinha will have a massive job to do shielding the back-line through the middle.

If Liverpool can get their midfielders to trail attacking moves into the final third, they could cause overload problems in the middle.

 

Finally, hit us with your prediction…

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 25, 2023: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold celebrates after scoring the equalising goal during the FA Premier League match between Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

See above.

There is no chance Fulham can manage to handle the fluidity and pace of Liverpool’s front three and also still keep an eye on their advancing midfielders.

I honestly shudder at the thought of how this match could end up.

The Reds don’t often like to make things easy on themselves, and Fulham have the ability to properly muck up a game, but I think in the end this finishes 3-1 to Liverpool, with Bernd Leno keeping it from being anything more damaging.