Liverpool laboured to what was, in the end, a comfortable victory but needed a spark from Spanish tyro, Fernando Torres before they could pull clear of a brave Fulham team.
For 80 minutes Liverpool passed the ball crisply and with purpose but, with the fragile Besiktas defence still in the back of their minds, could not find the precision to make their way through a resolute Fulham defence. Gerrard and Crouch, the later hitting the bar after Aurelio's flighted free-kick from deep, went closest in a first half that saw the Reds dominate possession and territory but struggled to find clear cut chances. Time and again the final ball was deflected or intercepted by desperate Fulham defending. The team from south-west London went close as well through Danny Murphy as the former Red looked to score against his old club for the first time.
But Rafa was not to be denied in what was his 200th match in charge at Anfield. As his team continued to find the going tough, the Spaniard looked to his bench and brought on El Nino, Fernando Torres. At it was a Spanish connection that finally broke the deadlock and allowed Anfield a sigh of relief. Pepe Reina, a spectator for much of the match grabbed the ball at the edge of his box and quickly launched a huge clearance high into the night sky. The Fulham defenders let Torres control the ball on his chest and power into the penalty area. The young Spaniard checked back inside and, under pressure slotted the ball though the his marker's legs, wrong footing the outstanding Anti Niemi and sneaking the ball inside the near post. Anfield errupted; Benitez vindicated.
Three minutes later the menacing Ryan Babel played a slide rule pass into Peter Crouch's run and, as the lanky striker surged into the box, Bocanegra clipped his right ankle. Crouch's ankle was outside the box when contact was made, but with his whole body, momentum and the ball inside the box and with Crouch about to take a clear attempt on goal, it would have taken an almost miraculous call from the referee to not give the penalty. There were no complaints from the Fulham defence and Gerrard stepped up to calmly convert, sending Niemi the wrong way.
When he came off the bench, as he had against Besiktas, Babel showed that when he chooses to be, he has the pace and directness to trouble defenders, even if his final ball is lacking. Twice he chose to shoot when a cross or a pass would have been the better option. Benayoun, the hat-trick hero in mid-week, showed a tactical naivety as he looked to continue his goal scoring run by cutting inside and floating in off his wing when it was clear that Fulham would be best undone out wide.
Credit Voronin as well as the new father had two excellent chances in the second half before he was substituted for the eventual match winner.
A good win, then, for Liverpool but we'll need to be more clinical against Newcastle, after the faux international break.