Liverpool fans were giddy ahead of the match. Chelsea lost, and Spurs were held by Crystal Palace, settling Liverpool up to take over the top spot in the table. Instead, Liverpool came out flat. The first half was one of the worst performances of Liverpool’s season. The second half was still not great, but at least was watchable. At the end of the day, Liverpool managed to eek out a draw to stay abreast Spurs at the top of the table.
Join us as we try and separate narrative from reality of the match up and how it all went down in the end.
The Brazilian keeper has spent a couple of stints on the sidelines with injuries already this season, but he has been stellar upon returning. The Holy Goalie made several impressive saves early on to keep Liverpool in the game, and was always an option to have balls played to his feet by defenders under duress. While Caoimhín Kelleher has impressed this past couple of weeks, Becker is in a class all of his own on the Liverpool roster.
The young midfielder was again one of Liverpool’s best players. The youngster was one of the few outfield players who seemed awake in the first half, and turned it up to 11 in the second half, taking over the game at times. The young Scouse midfielder finished with two shots on goal, two key passes, three dribbles, drew three fouls (including the one that lead to the free kick that caused the penalty), and had a 95% pass completion on 83 passes. He also had a tackle and two interceptions. To top it off, he had a slaloming 80 yard run with that ball, and forced a magnificent save on his shot that would have been a game winner.
Roberto Firmino was again buzzing all over the field. While he had a couple bad turnovers, he more than made up with it with some distinctive quick footwork, intelligent pressing, smart movement, and strong combination play. Like CuJo above, Firmino had a strong showing with his stats across the board as well.
While Firmino was involved from the off, Takumi Minamino came on at half time when Joel Matip was forced off with a sore back. Minamino had probably his best game this season, despite seeming to be ignored at times. The Japanese attacker/midfielder was intimately involved in the build up to a great chance for Jordan Henderson, and he also won the ball back smartly several times, showing good strength and tenacity.
Liverpool’s defense was shredded early and often, especially in the first half. Trent Alexander-Arnold looked rusty, misplacing pass after pass, and was beaten all to often on the dribble. Joel Matip and Fabinho looked slow and reactive, and seemed to come out second best on pretty much every aerial dual. Even the stalwart, Andrew Robertson, was passed by way too many times, allowing several dangerous crosses to come into the box.
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané struggled mightily to have an impact on the game. Both attackers were the target of long balls galore in the first half, but couldn’t get on the end of anything against a defense that sat fairly deep. They both were more involved in the second half as Liverpool began to play through the midfield more, but again, neither really seemed to have the killer edge on the final ball or shots. Salah did get the goal with a penalty kick, but it was certainly not one of his better takes.
With no Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, and more recently, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool have tweaked their method of progressing the ball in recent weeks. While the team still used long, diagonal passes, there has been an emphasis on progressing the ball through the midfield. Today, however, with Trend Alexander-Arnold back in the team, Liverpool seemed to revert to long diagonal balls in the first half. The problem was threefold.
First, Fulham were playing with a deep line, so there was very little space to drop a ball in behind them, and they had a player able to step up and contest almost every ball. Second, Liverpool were not at all accurate with the long passes from the usual suspects. Trent was 3 for 9 and Fabinho was 3 for 7 on long balls. Jordan Henderson ended up with a solid 7 for 16, but was much better in the second half than the first. The third element was the spacing between the midfield and attack. Liverpool’s midfield was fairly penned in their own half trying to help stem Fulham’s attack, and were not able to transition fast enough to help win second balls off of the long balls to keep the ball in the attacking half.
In the second half, Liverpool started to play more through the midfield, as seen by the growing influence of Curtis Jones on the game, and the transition from defense to attack was much more fluid
What Happens Next
Liverpool massive midweek scrap against Spurs at Anfield on Wednesday. This top of the table clash could set both teams up for a title run as they hit the reverse fixtures.