It’s a sixth consecutive defeat, but room for optimism as the Whites showed some fight at Anfield on Sunday. Cam Ramsey shares his five thoughts from the match.
Dubbed a “free hit” by a select segment of Fulham’s faithful, the Whites’ Remembrance Day visit to Anfield was loaded with caution and trepidation. Liverpool were flattened 2-0 by Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League by a part-time shop assistant that’s allegedly worth £3,000 – we were fully expecting a volatile reaction from Jurgen Klopp’s Reds.
Slav’s men ambled through their previous Premier League encounter at the John Smith’s Stadium and it was visible that the Cottagers were seriously devoid of fight, spirit and unity. However beneath the blinding Merseyside sunshine, there were certainly notable signs of life, as the Serb’s stammering set-up rolled their sleeves up, planted their feet, and gave as good as they got for a vast majority of the tie.
Bitter reality is, however, we lost 2-0 and the November international break couldn’t have come at a better period, it seems. Jokanovic and his dwindling backroom staff now have a fortnight to fine-tune their despondent system, but as a few significant faces swiftly shot down their critics, Fulham can prepare their core strategies and build upon their relative progress with an alien sense of anticipation, before they grapple with Southampton at the Cottage on the 24th.
Connections Are Forming
In recent weeks, it’s seemed as though Fulham’s disjointed matchday XI has consisted of complete strangers. Each department operated on differing wave lengths and were unable to coincide proficiently. Although, to our sheer delight, an element of cohesion was established at Anfield, as profound understandings across the park began to bloom. With that determining observation taken into consideration, it’s fair to suggest that connections are indeed forming.
With Tom Cairney, Calum Chambers and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa pulling strings and yanking at Liverpool’s core structure, Aleksandar Mitrovic was granted the right to drag Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez out of their comfort zones, which wrenched open pockets and gullies for Andre Schurrle and Ryan Sessegnon to explore. The midfield corps, though they were hustled in return, managed to retain possession resourcefully, and if there wasn’t an available outlet ahead, possession would be fed back to either the centre-halves or the full-backs, who would then deal with the ball accordingly. Barring the odd shimmy or Cruyff, of course.
Within the defensive department, Denis Odoi and Alfie Mawson combined to fashion a competent association and limited Liverpool’s progression through the heart of the back four. The Reds, as we discovered, are riddled with firepower and inspiration in the final third, although the Whites were compact and readily held their shape, which in turn forced the home side to sling the ball from flank to flank in order to breach our rearguard and bypass congestion.
Incidentally, Liverpool expertly utilised those sweeping long-range projectiles and Klopp’s set-up’s second, courtesy of a deftly weighted volley from Xherdan Shaqiri, was crafted by Andrew Robertson’s searching cross. Fulham’s back four were refortifying at that particular instance, however as they failed to recognise Shaqiri’s imposing presence, their ill-discipline allowed the Switzerland international to pounce unmarked. Despite the fatal blemishes, however, there are noteworthy improvements to take stock of, and as a unit we’re undoubtedly growing in resilience and fortitude.
Mitro’ Was a Nuisance
Mitrovic hasn’t assaulted the back of the net since Watford and has been muzzled routinely by his markers in the corresponding fixtures. However it’s what the bullish 23-year-old accomplished off the ball against Liverpool that’s salient, as his driven involvement aided Fulham in and around Liverpool’s 18-yard box.
Mitro’ had two staunch adversaries in van Dijk and Gomez to contend with as a lone hit-man, and though he was regularly outfought aerially, the persistent striker did in fact present Sess’ with a prime opportunity to break the deadlock with an intelligent flick into the youngster’s path, although the 18-year-old’s rasping effort skewed, excruciatingly, wide of the target by a matter of inches.
Fulham may have been carved open by a swift, devastating Liverpool counter – courtesy of Alisson’s questionable contribution – but the Whites should have waltzed into the dressing room at the interval with a deserved 1-0 lead. Splitting general opinion, as some self-proclaimed football fanatics and stattos still haven’t grasped the fabrics of the offside rule, Mitro was quite evidently played onside by Robertson’s left heel. A very fine, minuet margin, but the Serb’s instinctive header should have been granted.
Raw power and authority are staple attributes to Mitro’s makeup, and whilst being wrestled and restrained by those vying to snatch possession from his spell, the former Newcastle United attacker exercised his command and incorporated his teammates by forcefully shielding the ball from his direct opponents. A fine outing from Mitro’, even if his sixth goal of the campaign was despicably chalked off.
Maxime Le Full-Back
Ryan Sessegnon is an effective tool in the final third, that’s a given, although with Joe Bryan still sidelined, his innate defensive expertise are an integral conservative measure. The England U21 international has seamlessly adapted to life in the Premier League, however against Huddersfield Town, the starlet was repressed, restricted and wrangled throughout the encounter at the John Smith’s Stadium at left-back, so perhaps Slav’ had to alter his approach against Liverpool, if they were to suppress and frustrate.
In essence, Maxime Le Marchand – though he’s a recognised left-back – is evidently sturdier in the heart of Fulham’s defensive quarters. Irrational in possession, ponderous in his fundamental decision making, sluggish on the turn, the 29-year-old simply isn’t designed to be a Premier League full-back. Or so we thought.
The Frenchman was aware of Shaqiri’s inexhaustible ethic and was fully committed to each of his individual battles, win or lose. Le Marchand may not have the legs to match Liverpool’s blistering attack, but he did subdue the Reds simply by being in the right place at the right time, and as the Cottagers were tight, compact, and absorbent in their defensive configuration, the versatile defender could shepherd across his domain and reinforce his channel whilst conducting himself in an auxiliary capacity.
Le Marchand trusts his feet, even if at times we really, really don’t, however his first touch, which is often heavy, and his distribution, which is frequently wayward, was sufficient and prosperous against Liverpool. Pleasing to the eye, and to our heart rates, the utility option also adopted an impulse to propel the ball down the length of the touchline if he was being pestered, far away from Liverpool’s hazardous focal points. If he’s to continue in that position, we’ll beg for more of the same and plead for his frivolous showboating to come to an abrupt end. Think Fabio Grosso, not Marcelo Vieira.
Jean-Micheal Seri, arguably Fulham’s most innovative, ingenious protagonist, was dropped from Jokanovic’s starting fold, with Calum Chambers filling the void left by the Ivorian. Why would you sacrifice one of your proven, trusted midfield distributors for a defender that’s faltered in a range of differing roles? Well, little do we know.
At centre-half and right-back to date, the Arsenal loanee has proven to be a relative liability. Contrary to expectation, though, Chambers resiliently buttressed the Whites’ spine whilst being a major disruption in the centre of the park alongside Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa.
Being a natural centre-half, Chambers timed his tackles perfectly and even had the audacity to charge out of the depths of his own half with the ball in his assured stride to support Fulham’s offensive figureheads. Wary of his responsibilities, however, the galvanised enforcer selected his passes adequately without squandering the Whites’ intermittent stranglehold on proceedings.
Chambers and Anguissa – before the Cameroonian was lead astray in the second 45 – blanketed Fulham’s back four firmly and decisively and held no prisoners in their attempts to retrieve the ball on the parameter of the penalty area. The 23-year-old got in Liverpool’s faces from the first whistle, ruffled feathers, and was a superbly practical, cultured anchor that steadied our notoriously leaky back four. Man of the Match performance.
Rico’s Round of Applause
We have a ridiculously fantastic ‘keeper on our books and his dedication and dexterity between the sticks spared Fulham further blushes against the Reds, and that man is none other than the indispensable and enigmatic Sergio Rico. Time to bang his drum again.
The Spaniard, when called upon, produced a catalogue of outstanding saves to maintain a shallow score line. In the opening 45, Mohamed Salah wormed his way into Fulham’s penalty area and had the target at his mercy. A goal appeared destined as we all held our breath, although the 24-year-old stopper swiftly shuffled off his line to close the Egyptian, who ultimately couldn’t divert past Rico’s frame from close proximity.
Rico flung himself horizontally across his goalmouth with outstretched palms twice in the second-half to heroically thwart the Reds on both occasions, and whilst other ‘keepers could have deflected or parried back into impending areas, the agile two-time Europa League winner ensured that the ball ricocheted away from his target to momentarily relieve his outfield teammates.
Throughout the fixture, Rico’s distribution was constructive and he commanded his penalty area, as well as his defensive colleagues, with a studied, mindful perception of what lay in front of him. The Sevilla FC loanee knows his angles and when to assert himself in the box, and as the English top-flight is built on fine margins, his awareness and alertness are pivotal, beneficial qualities. Starting place has been buttoned down indefinitely.