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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
cope without Gerrard
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
"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
"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
"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."
Hodgson welcomes morale boost
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
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
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
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
"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
"It is a pity and frustrating because we did not win and we
know that Chelsea have drawn and Arsenal have lost. We are
"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
"When players go for international games we know they are
going to be tired so we tried to manage the squad," added
"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
"He is doing well with the physio so hopefully he will be
fit," said Benitez. "We have time so we will see."
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
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
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
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
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.