They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them. Lest we forget.
A Step in the Right Direction
Liverpool defeated a spirited Fulham 2-0 at Anfield to see them out for the international break. While many were expecting, or at least hoping, that the Reds would thump the Cottagers in the fashion of last year’s demolitions, but the scoreline doesn’t reflect Liverpool’s dominance.
In fairness, Fulham had a couple of big chances in the first half, but for the majority of the game, Liverpool were well and truly on top. The opening goal was marred by controversy as in the space of 13 seconds Fulham had a goal ruled out for offside before the Reds went the length of the pitch with Salah who slotted the ball home coolly.
The replays showed that it was tight, but ultimately, the correct decision. Shaqiri scored the second and final goal to secure the result with an excellent finish off of a cross from Robbo. After a hotly contested first half, Liverpool were able to stroll to victory as Fulham went into damage limitation mode.Embed from Getty Images
Alisson – 7
Alisson was guilty of making a couple of minor errors in the first half, but was luckily not punished for it. After the break though, the ‘keeper was left to soak up the afternoon sun in peace.
He was largely responsible for Salah’s goal. In the blink of an eye, Alisson stopped appealing for offside, picked the ball up, and released an inch-perfect pass down the wing for TAA who in turn played it to Mo. It’s hard to imagine any of Liverpool’s recent run of ‘keepers having the presence of mind to pull of such a play.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – 6
Trent was frustrated for large portions of the game due to over-hitting a couple of crosses and making some poor touches. It’s good to see a player demand more of themselves, especially when they use that frustration to push on as Trent did.
Even though he enjoyed less freedom than in the first half, Trent was far more composed after the break and created a few chances for his teammates without shirking his defensive responsibilities.
Joe Gomez – 7
Gomez had a solid game without needing to step in too often. Although, Fulham’s best chance of the game happened when Ryan Sessegnon rounded Joe with an unorthodox touch, but fortunately, shot wide.
He was as comfortable on the ball as ever, and his speed enables Liverpool to play with a high line without having to worry too much about teams lobbing balls in behind.
Virgil van Dijk – 7.5
VVD was the captain on the day and excelled in the role. His defensive organisation and strong leadership qualities are invaluable to such a young team at the back.
He saved Alisson on one occasion when the ‘keeper spilled what should’ve been a fairly comfortable save, but apart from that, his biggest contributions were his excellent passes that often switched the play or released a winger.
Andy Robertson – 8
Robbo was back to his near-best against Fulham. He had to balance his powerful attacking runs while being mindful of Ryan Sessegnon whose pace can cause some real issues.
He did so comfortably and notched an impressive assist with a beautiful cross to an unmarked Shaqiri. He’s certainly deserving of that new contract that’s been rumoured.Embed from Getty Images
Fabinho – 6
Unfortunately, Fabinho couldn’t recapture his encouraging recent form as his tackles and passes were too sloppy on occasions. He still needs more time to fully adjust before we see the best of him.
Fans did see get a few glimpses of what he can offer aside from his defensive abilities. Fab lofted a lovely ball over the top to Trent, but the youngster headed over when he possibly should’ve tried to knock it back across the penalty spot.
Gini Wijnaldum – 6
Gini had another quiet game without ever really putting a foot wrong. He didn’t look as tired as against Red Star, but he’s still not performing as well as he was earlier in the season.
That was particularly surprising given that his best games had previously come in matches where he played alongside Fabinho in a 4-2-3-1. He didn’t need to be dominant on the day, but it was still disappointing to not see him get more involved.
Bobby Firmino – 6.5
Bobby came back into the team but still looks to be getting used to this new system and how he fits in among the other attacking players. It’s a bizarre conclusion to draw because he often played a similar, but not identical, role during his time at Hoffenheim.
He created a good chance for Salah to score from and was characteristically tireless in his efforts to drop back and win the ball. Even when he isn’t creating much himself, the space he opens up for others with his off the ball movement can’t be overlooked.Embed from Getty Images
Xherdan Shaqiri – (Man of the Match) 8
Shaq was playing as though he had a point to prove after being left on Merseyside for the defeat in Serbia. A goal was just rewards for him on the day as he created plenty of chances for himself and those around him.
His was constantly finding space in the first half and struck a fine balance between playing perfectly weighted passes to his teammates and backing himself to score from distance. It’s a mystery why he has to share free-kick taking responsibilities when he’s on the pitch though, as he’s by far the most potent from dead ball situations.
Sadio Mane – 6.5
Mane was threatening again but is still some distance from performing at his lethal best. There were a few occasions when his touch let him down, and he sliced a couple of shots high or wide.
He did create a half-chance early on when he dribbled through several Fulham players, but Mane stumbled as he released the ball, so his pass to a flat-footed Salah was marginally over-hit.
Mo Salah – 7
There’s still some debate over Salah’s ability to play up top, even though Liverpool’s system is fluid enough to allow him to drift over to the right when he wishes.
In any case, Mo had a good game, and he took his goal well. Last season’s Salah might’ve scored a couple more as he let a glorious chance go begging in the first half, but his overall play is showing signs of improvement.Embed from Getty Images
Jordan Henderson – (on for Wijnaldum 69′) 6
Hendo was solid when he came on aside from one slightly misplaced pass. There wasn’t much for the captain to do though, as Fulham had already conceded the result.
James Milner – (on for Shaqiri 81′) N/A
No time to make an impact.
Naby Keita – (on for Fabinho 90′) N/A
No time to make an impact, but it’s good to see him back.
Simon Mignolet, Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno, Daniel Sturridge
Jurgen Klopp – 7
Klopp selected what’s arguably Liverpool’s strongest lineup as he gave his side the best possible chance of bouncing back from the midweek disappointment in the Champions League.
The defence wasn’t as rock solid as in previous games, which suggests that the Reds either underestimated their opponents once again, or simply had an ‘off day’. They did manage to keep a clean sheet though, so the focus will remain on Liverpool’s underperforming attack. The jury’s still out on whether this is down to Klopp’s change in tactics, the individual players’ form, or a combination of the two.
Regardless, Klopp can be mostly pleased with what he saw against Fulham and will undoubtedly be praying that this international break is kinder to him than the last on an injury front.Embed from Getty Images
This isn’t the first time that Shaqiri has deserved the man of the match award, and it certainly isn’t the last time we’ll see him running the show this season.
Shaq made a big statement to Klopp that regardless of whether the manager wants to play with a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, Shaq has to play. In the case of a 4-3-3, then the Swiss superstar could take the place of any of the current front three, given the fact that his form has eclipsed all of theirs. He could play on either wing, but preferably the right, which would mean either a straight swap with Salah, or in place of Firmino and the Egyptian moves to striker.
In the 4-2-3-1, which appears to be Klopp’s preferred system, Shaqiri’s role suits him to a tee. His passing has been sublime even though that’s an aspect of his game that regularly flies under the radar. It’s up to Klopp and the rest of the team to improve and benefit more from what Shaqiri is providing in this formation.
Early Signs That Salah is Returning
Salah’s still not at his scintillating best, that’s an indisputable fact. However, his recent form has been a significant improvement over the start of the season, and the signs are there that we may not have to wait too much longer to get our Mo back.
The Egyptian has scored three goals in his last four Premier League games and five from five in all competitions. Of course he’s had enough chances to potentially double that tally in that time period, but no one can argue that his haul in these games is unacceptable by any means. Like most of the players, he needs more time to adjust to the new system, and once he does, more confidence, and in turn more goals, will surely follow.
Moreover, he’s been using his pace and link-up play to a far greater degree recently, which will undoubtedly aid the adjustment process for himself and those around him.
It’s important to acknowledge that until the second goal went in, Fulham were putting up a respectable fight. They sensed Liverpool were in a precarious moment and did their best to capitalise on that. A bit of luck and some resilience from the Reds though was enough to see off a couple of infrequent scares and secure the result.
The fans seemed wary of this too as the Anfield crowd was palpably cautious for most of the game. It’s up to the players to inspire the supporters to sing and make Anfield the cauldron that we know it can be, but that goes both ways. The fans have to do their best to get behind the team even when they aren’t playing as well or providing as much entertainment as last season.
It’s on to the always unwelcome international break now, and hopefully the travelling Reds will be used sparingly. For those that’ll remain at Melwood though, it’ll be business as usual as Klopp endeavours to perfect his new system.
You’ll Never Walk Alone
Red Or Dead Liverpool FC Football Blog and Fields of Anfield Road – 12/11/2018