By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool travel to face a Fulham team in disarray as they look to reclaim top spot in the Premier League heading into the final international break.
With Manchester City playing Swansea in the FA Cup, a win would see Liverpool clear at the top by two points, albeit having played a game more than City.
Liverpool should go into the final few months brimming with confidence after Sadio Mane and co. expertly dispatched a dangerous Bayern Munich side with relative ease.
The aforementioned Senegalese continued his fine streak in front of goal, while Virgil van Dijk netted his third in as many weeks.
Fulham look all but relegated after changing their manager twice since the two sides last met in early November, Slavisa Jokanovic and Claudio Ranieri were both sacked after continuous poor results, with the latter only remaining in the hot seat for a total of 65 days.
Fulham’s forthcoming doom has been due to their own actions, poor decisions on and off the pitch has seen them fall short by some distance. For a team that showed so much promise and intent in the transfer window, their big players just haven’t showed up and Ryan Sessegnon, Jean Seri and captain Tom Cairney have all failed to impress.
Fulham have now lost nine of their last 10 games, with Scott Parker overseeing two of those games in charge, against Chelsea and Leicester. Both games have seen spirited performances from the Cottagers, something you would expect when trying to impress a new manager.
They were unlucky to lose against a dogged Chelsea side, a single goal separated the sides in a 2-1 loss. Calum Chambers briefly brought Scott Parker’s side level before Jorginho netted the winner a couple of minutes later.
However, they were totally outplayed in their next game, losing to a Jamie Vardy-inspired Leicester. Fulham couldn’t cope with the Foxes’ dominant midfield, Youri Tielemans was outstanding in the centre of the park and netted his first for the club before setting up the aforementioned Vardy, who scored his 100th goal for Leicester.
In stark contrast, Liverpool beat Bayern Munich in an emphatic victory during the week to set up a quarter final tie against Porto in the Champions League. This win against one of Europe’s giant clubs should increase confidence considerably. Liverpool were quite poor in the opening exchanges of the match, but it was Sadio Mane who was the difference once again, netting the decisive away goal, before goals from van Dijk and a second by Mane took the tie away from the Germans.
In the league match before, Liverpool came from behind to defeat Burnley 4-2, Sadio Mane netted twice meaning he now has 10 goals in his last 10 games for the club, his best streak since joining. Roberto Firmino also netted twice also after Ashley Westwood put Burnley controversially ahead directly from a corner.
Fulham caretaker manager Scott Parker has no fresh injury concerns, centre back Alfie Mawson is still a couple of weeks away from returning after a lengthy knee injury, substitute goal keeper Marcus Bettinelli is the only other expected absentee.
Scott Parker has used a 4-2-3-1 formation since being announced as caretaker, with Tom Cairney’s flexibility this formation could switch to a 4-3-3 to get an extra man in midfield. Sergio Rico should start in goal despite failing to live up to the standards that was expected of him when he arrived from Sevilla.
The same back four has been named in two previous games so it’s unlikely that it will change, Denis Odoi, Havard Nordtveit, Tim Ream and Joe Bryan have conceded 15 shots on target in their last two games meaning chances should be plentiful for Liverpool.
Forming a double pivot in midfield will be Calum Chambers, on loan from Arsenal and Kevin McDonald, Tom Cairney will sit in front of the duo hoping to be the link between midfield and attack. Ex-Red Ryan Babel will start up front with Sessegnon and Aleksandar Mitrovic, who is so far Fulham’s top scorer with 10.
Jurgen Klopp is expected to be without Jordan Henderson as the Liverpool captain went off after 15 minutes with an expected twisted ankle. With Naby Keita also struggling with an injury, it means only four fit midfielders are available for selection.
Adam Lallana will probably start after an excellent showing against Burnley, Wijnaldum has looked leggy towards the latter stages of games recently but with an upcoming break he should form a double pivot alongside Fabinho.
Joel Matip has been exceptional since he came in due to injuries to Gomez and Lovren. The Cameroonian hasn’t been bullied despite his slim frame and dominated a very dangerous Robert Lewandowski at the Allianz Arena. Supporters have often questioned the defenders mental strength and when he put the ball into his own net, he carried on about his business as if it didn’t happen. When Joe Gomez returns to full fitness, he will have a fight on his hands to regain his starting place.
The front three have looked better in their last two games, Salah has adapted his game to help the team more when double marked. Firmino’s touch looks sharper, while Sadio Mane only needs one more goal to match his tally of 20 for the whole of last season.
Last five results
Premier League (22/12/2012): Liverpool 4-0 Fulham
Premier League (12/05/2013): Fulham 1-3 Liverpool
Premier League (09/11/2013): Liverpool 4-0 Fulham
Premier League (12/02/2014): Fulham 2-3 Liverpool
Premier League (11/11/2018): Liverpool 2-0 Fulham
This should be quite a simple game for Liverpool’s standards. The win in Germany should boost confidence levels as well as momentum for the run into the end of the season. A win not only would see Liverpool return to the top of the table but will arguably put the Reds’ in the driving seat with Manchester City’s hectic schedule upcoming.
Fulham are 13 points from safety with 24 left to play for, they need a minor miracle to remain in the Premier League next season. Scott Parker has certainly shown determination and said that Fulham will come out to attack Liverpool at Craven Cottage. The London side were certainly the better side in the opening half in the reverse fixture, which I think was due to the fact that Shaqiri was played in midfield.
The final international break will commence after this weekend meaning it’s unlikely we will see too many changes. Naby Keita should start if deemed fit enough but Adam Lallana will probably get the nod ahead of the Guinean. Matip and Van Dijk shouldn’t be troubled by Fulham’s forward line despite Ryan Babel stating to know his international team mate’s weakness.
Prediction: Come late Sunday afternoon, Liverpool should be top of the league with quite a convincing 3-0 victory. Mane will continue his hot streak in front of goal, whilst Salah will finally break is drought in front of goal.
Final Score: Fulham 0-3 Liverpool – Salah (2), Mane