By Daniel Moxon – @dmoxon_
Liverpool strolled to a routine 2-0 victory over the Premier League’s bottom side Fulham on a sunny afternoon at Anfield.
Mohamed Salah and Xherdan Shaqiri scored for the Reds to continue their respective rich veins of form against the Cottagers who, although spirited in the first half, never really caused Jurgen Klopp’s side too many issues.
It was an important afternoon for Liverpool after their dismal performance against Red Star Belgrade in midweek, but after a series of changes that saw Fabinho and Shaqiri come in and Adam Lallana not even make the matchday squad, they impressed and could have had a few more were it not for some excellent saves from Sergio Rico between the sticks for Fulham.
The afternoon began with a sombre moment of reflection as both sides and the Anfield crowd paid their respects on the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day – both sides lost a combined 16 players in service during the First World War.
Quietness continued into the game as both sides took a little while to get going, Joe Gomez’s stunning ball out to Trent Alexander-Arnold which eventually found its way wide of the post after a Sadio Mané shot was the only real action of the opening 10 minutes.
Xherdan Shaqiri got the fans off their seats with a 25-yard drive that looked destined for goal but flashed just past the near post of Sergio Rico via a touch off the ‘keeper’s fingertips – the Swiss was rather bemused when referee Paul Tierney gave a goal kick instead of what should have been a Liverpool corner.
The crowd thought they’d found the breakthrough again after a beautiful exchange between Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah played the Egyptian through one-on-one with the Fulham stopper, but Rico stood strong to deny the Reds an opener.
Alexander-Arnold was the next to have an opportunity during wave after wave of Liverpool attack – Fabinho’s beautifully-lofted ball over the top found the head of the young full-back, but his header nestled onto the roof of the Londoners’ net.
But a defensive lapse would almost afford the visitors an undeserved lead when young starlet Ryan Sessegnon was played through on goal, only to drag his left-footed shot wide of the post at the Kop End – a huge and potentially costly miss for a side that had barely seen the ball in the opening 25 minutes.
The biggest scare would come in the 40th minute when a short corner routine was met by the head of Aleksandar Mitrovic and Fulham thought they had the lead, only to be denied by the offside flag.
While Fulham were disappointed and protesting to the officials, the Reds got the game going, played Salah through down the right – the epitome of composure, he raced clear of the desperately-recovering defenders, steadied himself and fired beyond Rico to finally break the deadlock.
Xherdan Shaqiri picked up where the Reds left off after the break when he was found at the far post by a perfect looping cross from Andy Robertson to the far post and beat Rico to get his second Anfield goal, both in front of the Kop.
The Swiss could easily have gone for power and snatched at it, but he cushioned the ball back towards the opposite post and nestled the ball delightfully into the bottom corner to double the lead.
Robertson had his own opportunity with a firm effort from 15 yards, but was denied by strong hands from Rico who really was the only thing keeping the scoreline respectable up to this point.
In truth the game died down somewhat from there as Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita came on to make their respective returns from injury and James Milner replaced the excellent Shaqiri, allowing the Anfield faithful to serenade him with a standing ovation.
The international break beckons next weekend but after Liverpool have a trip to Watford to contend with, while Fulham will entertain a lacklustre Southampton side in what will be seen as a must-win game at Craven Cottage.