Monday, 9 May 2011

Fulham 2 - 5 Liverpool

Pass and move is very much the Liverpool groove again. The result was beyond doubt within 15 minutes thanks to some frankly abysmal Fulham defending and, more pertinently from a Liverpool fan's point of view, a display of scintillating attacking football by the away side. Fortunately, the whole game was an enjoyable spectacle, as Fulham attempted a spirited come-back after half-time but Liverpool continued to attack with real purpose, and it feels like there are a surprisingly large number of talking points to be drawn from what might have been a fairly inconsequential Monday-night Premier League fixture.

Andy Carroll, still carrying an injury, was not included in the squad, so Maxi retained his starting place.  He took his chance by, unbelievably, scoring another hat-trick - the first two goals were a reward for his anticipation and movement (known in the industry as 'being in the right place at the right time') but his third was a 25-yard scorcher. He now has seven goals in three games, which is remarkable for a player generally regarded as tidy and dilligent but lacking in star quality. 

Zamora was on the bench for Fulham, with Dembele starting up front (although you wouldn't have known, totally anonymous as he was until he was shifted out to the right, to feed off Zamora's knockdowns, in the second half). Otherwise, they lined up as expected, but were generally poor apart from a 20-minute period after half-time. Gudjohnsen stayed too high up the pitch, which allowed Carragher (on his 666th Liverpool appearance) to do a stellar job of marking him out of the game. Fulham's midfield pairing of Murphy and Sidwell was too lightweight to deal with Liverpool's midfield three. Davies stayed wide, and was also a very peripheral figure.

Fulham were punished for adopting an extremely attacking mentality from the off - it's hard to know whether this was their initial game-plan, they might have been forced to readjust after going a goal down within 35 seconds, but they played wide, pushed up and committed midfielders and full-backs to attack. This left a lot of space for Kuyt, Maxi and Meireles to break into, and Suarez exploited Fulham's dodgy back-line superbly, punishing them time and time again. He looks dangerous whenever he gets the ball at his feet. Indeed, opposing defenders will now be having nightmares about getting exposed one-on-one with El Pistolero.

It's amazing to think that the general consensus, both amongst fans and in the media, is that Liverpool should be buying a lot of players in the Summer - but it's hard to imagine who can be dropped/sold if they do. They have scored 17 and conceded just three in the last five games. Even £35million Andy Carroll will struggle to regain a starting place with the team in such a rich vein of form without him, which is a testament to the fast-paced pass-and-move relationship which Suarez and Kuyt in particular have developed. Steven Gerrard, too, should have to prove that his early-season lacklustre form is well behind him if he is to regain one of the midfield starting spots when he returns from injury. It's quite incredible how effective Jay Spearing in particular has been with Lucas in the midfield these past few games. Glen Johnson (two assists and a faultless defensive performance tonight) is now routinely showing the form which has made him England's number 1 right-back, and although a world-class left-back should be sought this Summer, John Flanagan has been reliable when called upon.

When Meireles picked up a second-half injury, Jonjo Shelvey came on in his place and immediately impressed in his cameo appearance, particularly in terms of his ability to pick a pass, and his interplay with Suarez. Hopefully if he stays injury-free next-season he'll be able to make a bigger contribution. He is another who will soon be competing for Gerrard's place in the starting line-up.

I had also planned to write something on Skrtel (who has been widely overlooked for Liverpool's player of the season, even as 2nd or 3rd choice, despite having performed solidly in nearly every game this season), or Reina (who made his 150th consecutive start for the club), or Carragher (who, after tonight, has made more appearances than any other Liverpool player besides Ian Callaghan). They will all have to wait for another time, though, as tonight we should just rejoice in the fact that glorious attacking football has returned to a Liverpool team which, despite being tipped for a relegation battle earlier in the season, is now impressing with every single performance and looks odds-on to claim fifth-place in the Premier League.

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