After The Match 

            


Liverpool-Fulham 0-0              22.11.08                              PL
Goals:
Team: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio, Kuyt, Riera, Lucas, Mascherano, Torres, Kean
Subs: Alonso (Mascherano 65), Babel (Riera 78), El Zhar (Kuyt 82)
Not used: Cavalieri, Hyypia, Dossena, Benayoun
Yellow: None
Red: None
Referee: M Halsey
Attendance: 43,589
TEAM STATS
Shots on target: 6-5
Shots off target: 12-0
Blocked shots: 3-1
Fouls conceded: 7-8
Corners: 9-3
Offsides: 0-1
Possession: 57-43
Yellow: 0-0
Red:
 
0-0
HEADLINES "We did
not have enough energy."
Rafael Benitez
2511: Mark Lawrenson: Draw with
          Fulham was a freakish one-off

2411: Liverpool FC must learn
          how to blow teams away

2311: Rafa: Reds can cope without Gerrard
2211: Hodgson welcomes morale boost
2211: Benitez: Two points lost
2211: Cottage industry pays dividends 


NOVEMBER 25
Mark Lawrenson: Draw with
Fulham was a freakish one-off


By Nick Smith - Liverpool Daily Post

Thereís been much debate and division over whether Liverpoolís goalless draw with Fulham on Saturday represents a freakish one-off or a severe blow to title hopes.

For what itís worth, I reckon itís the former. Okay, so it was two points dropped, but rather than despair over the fact that Chelsea also failed to win at home, it should be taken as a sign of encouragement that their main rivals, including Manchester United, are also capable of letting some slip through their grasp as well.

But the reason I feel that Liverpool can easily shake off the disappointment of Fulham is because I think it was down to an error of judgement from Rafael Benitez. And I honestly believe itís one he wonít make again.

The manager has been excellent so far this season. In fact, he hasnít put a foot wrong and has found a beautiful balance in his team selection that hasnít been there in previous seasons.

Heís made Albert Riera his regular left-winger, he has stuck with Dirk Kuyt and got the best out of him, he has instilled a never-say-die attitude and all his players Ė even during the absence of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard for large chunks of the campaign Ė have managed to overcome that with such an encouraging will to win.

And itís paid off handsomely for Benitez as his team has made a start to the season that has set up them for a genuine challenge. And in terms of progress, that is all many supporters really wanted this time round.

But on Saturday he made the wrong call. And this isnít me criticising Benitez at the first opportunity or picking up on every little mistake he makes Ė itís just my opinion on where things went wrong in that one game. Because the fact is, if Gerrard is not in the team, thereís no point playing Lucas and Javier Mascherano in the centre of midfield.

That is painfully obvious and everyone around Anfield seemed to be in universal agreement Ė they should have been watching Xabi Alonso on the pitch instead of craning their necks to get a glimpse of him springing from the bench to warm up.

Alonso is vital, particularly in the absence of the captain, to the tempo and flow of Liverpoolís attacks. And he has the ability to unlock a defence by picking out the perfect pass, or indeed shot.

They are not attributes you immediately associate with Mascherano and Lucas and Liverpoolís creativity suffered badly as a result.

Yes, they and their team-mates should have been good enough to beat Fulham at Anfield, but you still have to turn the screw on these teams and having Alonso in the side would have done that.

In short, you have to play your best players in the Premier League regardless. That way you get a couple of goals up and the take them off with 20 minutes left if you have to give them a rest Ė not bring them on with 20 minutes left when itís too late.

But moving on, Iím sure that was just a rare blip in terms of altering the team and I honestly believe that thereís no great damage done.

If normal service is resumed tomorrow that will be the perfect way to shake off the hangover from the weekend.

And with Gerrard and Torres finally set to be fit at the same time for the first time, it will be a full strength squad Rafa will have to choose from with the exception of Martin Skrtel.

But itís a full strength starting line-up that I hope the manager sticks with in the near future.

Mark Lawrenson was speaking to Nick Smith


NOVEMBER 24
Liverpool FC must learn
how to blow teams away


Comment by Nick Smith - Daily Post

It's a conundrum that even Jeff Stelling might have to pause for breath to ponder. Is it a sigh of relief that Chelsea also dropped two home points that were theirs for the taking? Should it be seen as an encouraging sign that they can also fail miserably to break down inferior opposition?

Or does it make Saturdayís result more painful to bear for Liverpool? The fact that they failed to capitalise on what has to be assumed to be a rare Stamford Bridge blip and open up a two-point lead at the top?

Itís a difficult one, but thereís only one certain answer Ė itís far too early for all that tit-for-tat stuff. Liverpool need to address their own shortcomings and not worry about anyone elseís.

The fact is, 0-0 at home to Fulham is a bad result regardless of anything else, including the failure of Manchester United to reduce the eight-point gap that separated them from the top two at the start of Saturday.

Itís got nothing to do with lost ground in November because there will be far more twists and turns in the next six months without getting all tangled up in the table at this stage.

There is one column that does, however, have some significance when assessing the possible impact of Liverpoolís continued lack of conviction when trying to break down stubborn opponents on their own turf Ė goal difference.

Itís already worth an extra point to Chelsea and is what is keeping them top week after week. It might not be vital at this stage but it is a good indicator of the title pedigree of the current front runners.

The leaders average a two-goal difference for every game. Liverpoolís is less than one.

That suggests something that has been much in evidence during this current campaign Ė Liverpool appear to lack Chelseaís ability to blow teams away when they want to.

Coasting to a comfortable victory and hence living up to general expectation might be easier said than done, but itís something Chelsea and indeed Manchester United in their recent title-winning campaigns have easily achieved.

Even this season United have already made short work of Stoke 5-0 and West Brom 4-0. Chelsea have hit five without reply against Sunderland and Middlesbrough, with Portsmouth hit for four on their own ground.

Liverpool have faced all the aforementioned opponents, with the 3-0 victory over WBA their most emphatic in the league this season. When they beat them two weeks ago, it was the first time they had won by more than two in any game except for the Merseyside derby.

As for five-goal hauls, they are a distant memory. Itís happened juts twice in 2008, both coming in the same week back in January. Against Luton and Havant and Waterlooville.

Hence this season, harder work has been made of the likes of Boro, Stoke, Wigan, Portsmouth and Fulham than United and Chelsea, which blows a hole in the theory that improving results against top four rivals will be key to maintaining a title challenge.

The trouble is the other 15 sides in the division have to be seen off as well and Liverpool have for some reason looked far more laboured and uneasy in taking them on than they have the top two.

So now itís a question of what can be done to finally give Rafael Benitez a boost to his goal difference instead of his blood pressure.

Champions League progress being secured this week would be a start. Javier Mascherano was withdrawn on Saturday to conserve some energy, a measure that wouldnít be necessary if a last 16 slot was already secured. The cost of those draws in the perfectly winnable Atletico Madrid double header is now being counted.

However Benitez shuffles his pack, the winning hand lies in having Fernando Torres on form. Although he has yet to find the net at Anfield, where he hit 24 of his 33 goals last season, some flashes of brilliance on Saturday suggest he will soon find his range and perhaps get the luck needed to hit his stride again.

But where will the support come from to give Liverpool those convincing, crushing victories that are the mark of champions?

The Fulham stalemate showed up the lack of ideas and inspiration without Steven Gerrard to call on. So much so that Xabi Alonso has never been in such great demand as he was when his name was chanted in an attempt to prise him from the bench.

However, he doesnít guarantee a goal when a breakthrough is badly needed and clearing even the heads of those sat at the back of the Anfield Road standís top tier summed up the frustrating afternoon.

In short, Alonso belted the ball into oblivion. Something he and his team-mates are worryingly unable to do to the opposition at the moment, no matter how temptingly they are teed up for them.


NOVEMBER 23
Rafa: Reds can
cope without Gerrard


TEAMtalk

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez would never accept that one man makes a team, even if that man is the inspirational Steven Gerrard.

But the Liverpool manager, after witnessing Satutrday's limp 0-0 home draw with Fulham, was relieved to be able to reveal his skipper should be back in the starting line-up for Wednesday's Champions League home clash with Marseille.

It was clearly not palatable to consider the prospect of Gerrard's torn groin muscle leaving the club's inspiration again sitting in the directors' box.

Gerrard shuffled with frustration along with the rest of Liverpool's faithful as a team still unbeaten in the league at home in 2008 failed to see off a defiant Fulham.

That muscle injury has caused substantial damage in a matter of days, leaving Liverpool's relationship with the Football Association and the England set-up at best chilly.

Then, without Gerrard, Liverpool wasted the chane to go top. Chelsea and Manchester United also drew, so the only real losers were Arsenal whose defeat at Manchester City leaves them outside the top four and 10 points behind the leaders.

It should have been more because even an off-key Liverpool had enough chances to have buried Fulham.

Robbie Keane missed a sitter - it seems to happen every week now - while Dirk Kuyt failed twice from good positions.

The view afterwards from the Reds camp was that they should be able to win without Gerrard.

Full-back Fabio Aurelio said: "We have played for two months without Fernando Torres, and that is a big loss, but managed to win matches.

"We were able to handle it. And we should be able to do the same without Steven.

"Of course he is a fine player. He is approaching 10 years since his debut and he is very important for us.

"I have only been with him at Liverpool for a couple of years, but I know full well what he means to the club.

"I see him working every day in training, I see him leading the side on the pitch, and he is very, very special.

"But again we should not use as an excuse the fact that he was not playing against Fulham. It is too easy a thing to say.

"We have won games without Steven before, and we have good enough players to come into the side when he is not playing and still be able to win games."

Aurelio added: "Any side in the world would miss a player of Steven's ability and leadership. That is obvious.

"But we are finding teams now coming to Anfield and playing like Fulham did. They did not really have many chances, but tems now defend deep and in numbers.

"It is difficult to break down, but we should be able to do that with the players we have, with or without Steven."

Benitez supported that view and insisted his players must take collective responsibility.

He said: "We will always miss a player of Stevie's ability, but we did not beat Fulham because five or so players were all off form together.

"You cannot win games when that happens. He would have made a difference, yes, but it should not be an excuse.

"He is training now and I would expect that he would be fit to play against Marseille on Wednesday."

Benitez added: "It was a bad day, we did not have enough energy and we did not pass the ball well enough.

"We had a situation when maybe five players were well below their best. The players who had been away with their countries looked tired.

"I know the crowd were calling for Xabi Alonso to come on, but he had played 90 minutes for Spain and we needed fresh legs.

"When he did come on Fulham pressurised him straight away. One man does not make that much difference in such circumstances, when so many other players are off form you cannot expect one player to change things."

For Fulham boss Roy Hodgson, the result was encouraging, and as much as could be expected against a top-four side.

"A draw against one of those sides is just like a win," he said.

"We have eventually completed a decent away performance. So often this season we have been 0-0 with 10 minutes to go and conceded a goal.

"To take a point at Liverpool, who are potential champions of England, is very important.

"When you look at their bench you know they have players they can bring on as good as the ones going off. We knew they would throw the kitchen sink at us."

And Hodgson also shot holes in the theory that international commitments upset club teams in their next match.

He said: "The players who had the longest trips - Brede Hangeland to Ukraine, John Pantsil to Ghana and Mark Schwarzer to Bahrain - were the ones who played the best."


NOVEMBER 22
Hodgson welcomes morale boost

Sky Sports

Roy Hodgson believes Fulham's 0-0 stalemate with Liverpool at Anfield will boost confidence levels for the rest of the season.

The point earned on Merseyside was only Fulham's second on their travels this season following a 1-1 draw at Portsmouth in October.

But after watching his side, who avoided relegation on the final day of the last campaign, leave Liverpool intact, manager Hodgson is optimistic.

The Cottagers now sit ninth in the table and the former Inter Milan and Blackburn boss is hopeful his current side can push on.

"I am really pleased with the point and the way we played," Hodgson told Sky Sports. "We attempted to use the ball well when in possession.

"We ran out of steam a little in the second half but that is fairly normal when playing at Anfield. They are very confident as a home team.

"I am pleased we collected a point I felt we deserved.

"Points are important in this league. This will do us a lot of good, not only points-wise but in terms of our confidence."


NOVEMBER 22
Benitez: Two points lost

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has admitted his disappointment after his side missed the opportunity to move two points clear at the top of the Premier League.

The Reds were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw against Fulham at Anfield and the dissatisfaction on Merseyside was exaggerated by the fact that title rivals Chelsea drew with Newcastle, while Arsenal lost at Manchester City.

And Benitez - whose team sit level on points with Chelsea at the summit of the table - confesses that his annoyance has increased following the slip up of Luiz Felipe Scolari's men.

"At the end of the day we have lost two points at home where you have to think you can win every game," Benitez told Sky Sports.

"It is a pity and frustrating because we did not win and we know that Chelsea have drawn and Arsenal have lost. We are really disappointed.

"We did not have enough energy. We were not controlling the game. Normally when you do not play well you cannot win."

And Benitez - who controversially opted to name Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso among his substitutes - believes the midweek international friendlies played a part in his side's lacklustre display.

"When players go for international games we know they are going to be tired so we tried to manage the squad," added Benitez.

"We had to decide which players had fresh legs."

Meanwhile, Benitez is optimistic captain Steven Gerrard, who missed out against Fulham with a groin muscle tear, will be fit for Wednesday's home UEFA Champions League meeting with Marseille.

"He is doing well with the physio so hopefully he will be fit," said Benitez. "We have time so we will see."


NOVEMBER 22
Cottage industry
pays dividends


By Julian Segal - Setanta Sports

An extremely hard-working and well marshalled Fulham side held Liverpool to a goalless draw at Anfield, as the hosts missed the opportunity to go top of the league and will no doubt rue the lack of form of several of their key players.

Both teams came into this game in relatively buoyant form having each won their last two games in The Premier League, Liverpool most recently defeating West Brom at home and Bolton away without conceding a goal, whilst Fulham having scored victories in successive home matches against Newcastle United and Tottenham.

That having been said, the visitors went into the match wary of two significant statistics, they held the worst away record in the league this season, with just one point scored from five away fixtures and perhaps more importantly, they had never won at Anfield in a 27-match sequence stretching back 74 years.

Rafael Benitez seemed keen to prolong the agony for The Cottagers, fielding a strong attacking formation from the outset, with both Dirk Kuyt and Robbie Keane joined by the hero of the Kop, Fernando Torres, who was restored to the starting line up in the Premier League for the first time since the end of October.

Alvaro Arbeloa also returned to the side following a recent suspension, yet there was no Steven Gerrard out through injury, Lucas taking up the spare postion in midfield as Benitez elected to rest Xabi Alonso.

Fulham's Danny Murphy took to the park against his former side for the sixth time and was yet to get the better of them.

Liverpool looked the more likely side in the opening exchanges, a decent chance as early as the third minute came with a long raking pass by Daniel Agger which found Arbeloa bursting into space deep on the right hand side, his low cross into the penalty area saw an unmarked Kuyt drag his shot wide of Mark Schwarzerís goal.

The visitors were, though, relatively lively themselves, strikers Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson, booed every time he touched the ball in view of his former playing days with Everton, seemed to be constantly buzzing around the Liverpool backline and Simon Davies and Jimmy Bullard in midfield cleverly pulling the proverbial strings.

A lovely one-touch move for Fulham on 20 minutes saw Clint Dempsey flick the ball over an opponent with the outside of his foot to Bullard, Bullard knocking it backwards over his head to Johnson who was prowling on the edge of the area, yet the Fulham hit-manís first-time volley was pounced on by Pepe Reina to avert what would have been a delightful goal.

At the other end, Torres showed glimpses of brilliance, yet every time he saw the whiteís of Schwarzerís eyes, there was John Pantsil to harry him out of possession and snuff out any danger.

The atmosphere seemed strangely subdued as the Anfield faithful, perhaps surprised by Fulhamís resilience, had nothing to get particularly excited about.

There should have been something for them to cheer on the half-hour mark, following a ricochet on the edge of the Fulham area Keane found himself one-on-one by the penalty spot with Schwarzer rushing out to pressure him and the tricky Irishman could do no better than blast his effort straight at the big Aussie.

Several minutes later and it might have been 1-0 the other way, a speedy break down the right by Zamora, who did brilliantly to get to the byline and pull the ball back to Bullard on the edge of the area, the resulting fizzing shot that seemed destined for the top corner of the Liverpool goal was brilliantly tipped round his post by Reina.

Torres, who was looking a wee bit ring rusty, did gradually assert himself more and more as the first half drew to a close, seeing a header whistle over the Fulham crossbar and a tasty crack from outside the area fly straight into the midriff of Schwarzer.

However the score at half time remained 0-0 with Fulham apparently having had 58 percent of the possession.

Liverpoolís Spanish frontman was getting even closer in the second half, on 49 minutes a lovely curling effort from outside of the area flew oh so close to the top corner of the Fulham net, and two minutes later his vicious strike from an acute angle saw Schwarzer parry the ball out for a corner.

However the Fulham defence continued to hold firm, Pantsil and Brede Hangeland doing Roy Hodgson particularly proud up to the hour mark. Benitez had had enough and on 65 minutes Alonso replaced Javier Mascherano, presumably given the brief of creating the killer pass for Torres.

As far as the Liverpool fans were concerned, judging by the rumble of discontent from the stands, they were no doubt expecting the completely ineffective Lucas to be replaced.

On 70 minutes came another class save by Schwarzer, Fabio Aurelioís cross from the left was smashed goalwards first time by Kuyt inside the area, the keeper doing brilliantly to tip it over his bar.

By this stage it appeared as though the visitors had given up any attacking intentions, both sets of eleven seemed almost permanently decamped in the Fulham half of the pitch, but the away side continued to defend resolutely and Liverpool were generally forced to resort to long-range pot-shots.

A rash of substitions ensued as the game remained at stalemate, Ryan Babel replacing Albert Riera on 77 minutes, Nabir El Zahr coming on for Kuyt on 82 minutes and for Fulham, Zoltan Gera replaced Clint Dempsey on 85.

None of these changes made a great deal of difference and save for a tempestuous little spat between Torres and the man who had marked him out of the game so well, Pantsil, the match had no other action and finished in a stalemate.

So Liverpool failed to take advantage of a slip-up by Chelsea and were not able to overhaul the London outfit at the top of the table. Some of Benitezís players need to take a look at themselves in the light of this performance, notably Lucas and Keane.

Possibly even the Liverpool manager himself may rue his mistakes, for his somewhat foolhardy decision to rest Alonso for much of the game, the experienced midfielder looking particularly lively when he came on.

As for Hodgson, he will be delighted with the new found steel in The Cottagers' line-up, a freshly galvinised force that has now lost just once in their last seven matches.


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