The only consolation for Liverpool at the end of another Anfield loss is that their next official home game will take place in Hungary. In Merseyside, the Premier League champions have entered uncharted waters and new depths, with a sixth straight loss at home that has left champions Jürgen Klopp further adrift from the Champions League group and galvanized prospects for Fulham’s survival.
A cheer from Scott Parker rang out around Anfield as the final whistle for his team’s priceless victory sounded. Fulham, the most dangerous team before the break, faced constant pressure in the second half but survived thanks to fiercely engaged rearguard action, plus a slice of good luck when Sadio Mané hit the wood. His stamina was encapsulated by Joachim Andersen launching into a vital punt with Mané poised to convert Andy Robertson’s cut in injury time. Mario Lemina’s immaculate strike at the break was enough to extend Liverpool’s unprecedented losing streak.
The Champions League was clearly on Klopp’s mind when he made the changes sound before Wednesday’s “home” game against RB Leipzig in Budapest. Injuries have restricted the Liverpool manager’s opportunities to make wholesale changes, and he has resisted them too, but not here. Seven team changes that started against Chelsea on Thursday were the most Klopp has made in the Premier League since his first season at the club. Mohamed Salah held his place despite feeling the intensity of Chelsea’s play, according to Klopp’s explanation of his early change, while Diogo Jota made his first league start since November.
While Liverpool could still boast of pedigree and experience in attack, even with Roberto Firmino absent due to injury, the opposite happened in their defense, where Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams formed the 20th different central defensive pair that Klopp has employed this season. The pair, with 10 Premier League appearances between them prior to kick-off, were joined by Neco Williams on the right-back. However, Liverpool’s vulnerability to counterattacks, long balls and pace has been apparent regardless of who played defense this season. Opponents are no longer hiding how they intend to exploit the champions’ weaknesses and Fulham was no exception.
The visitors were in tidy possession as always, but sought to free Ademola Lookman at the first opportunity. Diagonal balls for the first time invited Lookman to attack Neco Williams regularly in the first half and, with more conviction heading into goal, Fulham would have led long before Lemina’s brilliant shot.
Josh Maja missed his team’s first start when he stepped between Phillips and Neco Williams to find a cross from Ivan Cavaleiro only to miss a volley wide off Alisson’s goal. Lookman, thrown into space by Andersen’s pass outside defense, cut into Liverpool’s right-back but dragged his shot off the near post. The loaned winger had a similar effort deflected by Neco Williams when he was released by Harrison Reed. Alisson made a brave save at Maja’s feet when a Kenny Tete cross found the forward within the six-yard box. Cavaleiro dazzled when he played down the left. Fulham was cutting through Liverpool’s makeshift rear too easily, but it was Salah who was to blame when the breakthrough finally came.
Liverpool appeared to have dealt with Cavaleiro’s free kick when Andy Robertson headed Salah clear on the edge of the area. However, Lemina was at the Egypt international in an instant and dispossessed the striker before sweeping a precise and powerful shot into the far corner of Alisson’s goal. It was the midfielder’s first goal for Fulham and a memorable way to open their account.
Klopp’s team had sporadically threatened in the first half. A combination of goalkeeper Alphonse Areola and left-back Ola Aina prevented Salah from taking advantage of Xherdan Shaqiri’s strong pass into the box, while Jota was unable to connect cleanly when Areola couldn’t cut a cross from the right. Otherwise Fulham were comfortable. That luxury ended as soon as the second half began.
Liverpool dominated after the restart, controlling possession and thus denying Fulham more opportunities to stretch their defense, and kept the visitors on defense for the remainder of the match. For once, it wasn’t a lack of wit or intensity that cost the champions in the final third at Anfield. Areola made a superb one-handed save to avoid an immaculate volley from Jota when the Portuguese international connected with a Neco Williams cross into the area. The goalkeeper also fumbled before Salah could convert. Mané, replacing Georginio Wijnaldum in the second half, sent a looping header into a post from Naby Keïta’s center. Shaqiri huddled just over 20 meters as a procession of white shirts darted into the path of shots and crosses in stoic defense of three crucial points.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism