x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

No Gerrard and no goals as the Anfield fans grow restless

Stubborn Fulham refused to be broken as Rafa Benitez's side simply ran out of ideas.

LIVERPOOL // Stubborn Fulham refused to be broken as Rafa Benitez's side simply ran out of ideas. Fifteen points and eight places separated these sides prior to kick-off but Fulham easily looked the equal of a Liverpool side missing their injured skipper Steven Gerrard. Dirk Kuyt pulled an early shot wide after impressive build up play between Fabio Aurelio and Alvaro Arbeloa but for all Liverpool's possession, they did not resemble a side unbeaten at home in their last 17 Premier League outings.

Fulham defended as a solid unit, with seven men frequently behind the ball. It was not difficult to understand why Roy Hodgson's men had conceded just six goals on the road before this match. Gerrard's absence became more and more obvious as the home side looked devoid of attacking ideas while Fulham's defence handled the threat of Fernando Torres magnificently. However, on 29 minutes, Robbie Keane should have scored but for a stunning save from Mark Schwarzer. An Aurelio cross richocheted off Lucas into Keane's path just 12 yards out but Schwarzer was off his line instantly and brilliantly blocked the effort.

Pepe Reina then tipped a strike from Jimmy Bullard, destined for the top corner, over the bar with a save that matched if not bettered Schwarzer's efforts as Fulham continued to follow their own script for the afternoon's proceedings. Liverpool surprisingly remained unchanged at the break, despite the Kop's vocal clamouring for Xabi Alonso to be introduced. The Anfield crowd became louder and louder in its criticism of Liverpool, justifiably so, as Keane and Torres in particular refused to shoot when well placed. Liverpool appeared struck by a type of stagefright when directly in front of goal and continually tried to pass the ball in, much to Fulham's glee.

Alonso was finally introduced with half an hour remaining but puzzlingly enough it was Javier Mascherano who was removed despite the Argentinian being one of the few Liverpool players who looked capable of breaking Fulham down. The heckling response from the crowd told Benitez all he needed to know about the validity of his decision. It really was dire stuff as the home side continued to look shapeless and tepid in attack.