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Liverpool 0, Fulham 1: Lifeless Reds Stumble in Mid-season Friendly

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Liverpool 0
Fulham 1 Skrtel 5' (og)

With Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard not even included on the bench and the focus clearly already on Saturday's FA Cup final at Wembley, the tone for Liverpool was set early: This wasn't a game that especially mattered. Clearly it was an outlook reflected by the largely indifferent performances of the men on the pitch, as a side filled with players for the most part unlikely to play a role on the weekend shambled half-heartedly through ninety minutes against a Fulham side that seemed nearly as uninspired.

Of the eleven who started the night, the only favourites to start on the weekend would likely have been Martin Skrtel and Jordan Henderson, though Kenny Dalglish and the coaching staff would have gone into the game hoping to see players like Jay Spearing, Andy Carroll, Dirk Kuyt, and Maxi argue their cases. That largely didn't happen, leaving little positive to take from a mostly dire weeknight of football aside from Jose Enrique being given an unusual break and Raheem Sterling getting a second chance to come on for a late run-out.

However, it would be one of those two presumptive first-teamers playing a key role in Fulham's early goal. Martin Skrtel, as is often the case when he's paired with anybody but Daniel Agger, began his day on the left—and as is often the case he looked less than assured for it. When Riise's driven cross inside five minutes glanced off the boot of former Liverpool prospect Alexander Kacaniklic, the looping ball caught the defender off-guard and the end result was an own goal. It was a shaky moment for the big Slovak, though unlucky as much as anything.

When the home side did begin to mount a push-back of sorts—one helped by Fulham too looking far from convincing for long stretches—it almost appeared as though the game might head down a familiar path of toothless possession and missed chances after all. This was signalled when, shortly after the twenty minute mark, Liverpool had their most effective spell of the game in attack. First Dirk Kuyt pushed the ball past the post at the end of a slick passing move. Then, five minutes later, Maxi centred to Jonjo Shelvey on a goalmouth scramble only to see the shot cleared off the line by Brede Hangeland after it trickled past Mark Schwarzer.

That, though, was as good as things would get for Liverpool, and soon afterwards the malaise of indifference that came to represent the match would descend in full. The first half ended with Liverpool looking less and less interested despite that they had dominated possession after the ten minute mark, and whether it was with an eye to Saturday or due a desire to shake things up, Kenny Dalglish began the second by taking off Henderson in favour of Stewart Downing. About the only thing that happened as a result was that Liverpool looked far, far worse in a second half with almost nothing redeeming to speak of.

*

All told it was a poor, dull game overall, with even the decent possession Liverpool ended the first half with disappearing with Downing's introduction. Even if Henderson wasn't having his best game in a Liverpool shirt, as part of a midfield trio the simple numbers of it at least helped to cover for that as well as for Jay Spearing have a spell of futility in midfield to match Charlie Adam against Tottenham in the autumn. Turning that underperforming trio into an underperforming duo and combining it with Downing himself being as ineffective on the right as he has been at any point this season couldn't help but lead to a second half performance that quickly moved Liverpool from the realm of largely ineffective to downright dire.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, mention does have to be made for Andy Carroll at the front and Alexander Doni all the way at the back. After getting sent off the last time he filled in for Pepe Reina, Liverpool's backup keeper made a number of strong saves that kept the scoreline from becoming embarrassing for the home side as the second half wore on, and were it not for Pepe Reina's entrenched status as the club's number one there would be an argument for Doni seeing more minutes in what little is left of the season.

Meanwhile, if Downing looked as ineffective as he ever has on Merseyside, Carroll looked better than he ever has over the course of an entire match. Carroll, more often than not, has been a frustrating grab bag of good and bad even within the course of any single match, and at his best the positives still seem to be tied to negatives. Here, however, there were no doubts about a heavy touch to go along with compliments for his work rate, and no painfully slow start to stand in counterpoint to a strong finish. From nearly the opening whistle he was convincing, and for long stretches he seemed one of the few Liverpool players who both cared about the match at hand and possessed an ounce of sharpness to go along with that.

In the end, of course, Carroll's top performance and Doni's solid goalkeeping weren't enough to overcome that Liverpool on the whole appeared largely indifferent to the task. And as far as the result itself goes, it's hard to be too bothered given all that has gone before this season and that the only thing that really matters in what's left of the club's season is trying to win the FA Cup on the weekend—and quite clearly that the game mattered little more than some pre-season friendly was an approach embraced by most of the players.

Despite the clear focus on the upcoming cup final, though, it's still hard not to be disappointed by such a lifeless display—by far Liverpool's least inspired showing in the league this season, and one perhaps only matched by the indifference shown in a pointless autumn friendly against Rangers. Given that, it's hard to know if the players—seeing the coaching staff's clear focus on the weekend—were simply unable to find any kind of motivation for the match, or if it perhaps reflects a deeper issue of players who have resigned themselves to being part of Liverpool's "b-team" regardless of how they or their more regularly starting teammates might perform.

No matter the case, it wasn't especially pleasant to watch—though it may not be especially meaningful in the long run, either. And so in the end, probably, the less said about it the better.