You'll be hard-pressed to find a weaker performance in the Premier League this season than the one Fulham turned in at Anfield today, offering little resistance as the hosts waltzed to a 4-0 victory. Liverpool were very, very good at times, and the scoreline ended up flattering the visitors. We wanted a comfortable victory after the disappointing loss at the Emirates last weekend, and once Liverpool settled in, it was clear there was only one outcome. Second place for the next few weeks, and then a stretch that will define Liverpool's season.
Liverpool 4: Amorebieta (og) 23', Skrtel 26', Suarez 36' 54'
The inclusion of Daniel Agger and Philippe Coutinho brought with it a change in shape; as expected, Brendan Rodgers shifted to four at the back for the first time in weeks, with Martin Skrtel and Agger partnering in central defense and Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho dropping out. Steven Gerrard recovered quickly from a hip injury, while Philippe Coutinho joined the starting eleven for the first time since coming off injured against Swansea back in September.
Fulham weren't overrun immediately, as they sank deep from the off and shielded their own penalty area fairly well. Going forward they created little, but Martin Jol's plan to limit the damage did the job over the opening twenty minutes. Then Fernando Amorebieta had the worst ten minutes of his season and Liverpool were up 3-0.
The own goal came first, with a curling Gerrard set-piece delivery punched in by the Basque central defender's left arm. Initially it looked as though Luis Suarez headed it in, but replays revealed that it was all Amorebieta. Three minutes later Skrtel caused further humiliation, this time rounding the defender easily on another Gerrard cross to head Liverpool up 2-0. Amorebieta's horror show was finished on 36 minutes, when a lovely through ball by Jordan Henderson nicked off his cleats perfectly into the path of Suarez, who beat Maarten Stekelenburg for Liverpool's third.
It could have been more for the hosts as they continued to pour forward, often through the impressive Glen Johnson, and Suarez finished the scoring less than then minutes into the second half, when tireless pressing from Henderson and Gerrard left the captain free to deliver a lovely through ball to the Uruguayan, who made no mistake in curling past Stekelenburg.
There were plenty more highlights, with Liverpool dominating possession and stringing together a number of breathless passing sequences. The return of Jose Enrique--in place of the inconsistent Aly Cissokho--was needed, Joe Allen's introduction for Steven Gerrard just after the hour mark was timely, and while Daniel Sturridge was clearly frustrated that he didn't get a goal, Rodgers' decision to bring him off for Victor Moses rounded off an enjoyable, successful day at Anfield.
I wish it could always be this way. Needed changes from the manager, effective performances from the personnel, zero letoff even when the circumstances allowed it. The impotence of the opposition is the lone pockmark on a day that was otherwise full of fun. Sterner tests will come--how could they not?--soon, but for now we can revel in one of those performances that was never nervy or in doubt.
One of the big takeaways is the willingness of the manager to change when needed; the 3-5-2 hadn't quite worn out its welcome, but something needed shifting, and the reappearance of Daniel Agger to partner the continually solid Martin Skrtel proved more than enough against a non-existent Fulham attack. A test would have been nice, though at each turn the pairing looked confident, as did Glen Johnson, who had a wonderful time of it down Fulham's left. If Jose Enrique comes back and provides half of what Johnson did today, Liverpool's defensive unit will be stacked.
This was again the type of match that showcased the best of the three in midfield, with Steven Gerrard given time and space to do what he pleased, Lucas able to rampage against disjointed opposition, and Jordan Henderson, buttressed by the presence of Johnson, excelling up and down the pitch. Philippe Coutinho provided similar comfort for the midfield three, as neither Gerrard nor Henderson looked out of place when they decided to join the attack, aided by the presence of the Brazilian to do the creating.
Luis Suarez is good and etc., and both he and Daniel Sturridge should have had more. For the first time this season Liverpool win without a Sturridge goal, though it also appeared the type of match in which the Englishman would have willed himself at least one had he not come off. Victor Moses was lively after he replaced Sturridge, and the appearances of the aforementioned Enrique and Joe Allen came in the best possible circumstances, with each eager to impress against a side that were more than willing to comply.
Eleven matches gone, and Liverpool sit alone in second. Spurs could join them on points tomorrow, but Brendan Rodgers' side will surely enter the international break ahead on goal difference if not points. Let's enjoy it, as the end of the break will usher in the most challenging month of Liverpool's season.