By Daniel Moxon – @dmoxon_
An afternoon and match that began with a pleasant temperature and sunny skies ended with a much different atmosphere as Storm Hannah took grip of the country and doused it in dark skies and rain.
It was, in truth, an apt metaphor for Liverpool’s performances this last week – so good at Bayern Munich in a Champions League clash that made one of Europe’s elite teams look amateurish, but the horizon suddenly darkened as the Reds were found wanting against one of the Premier League’s strugglers.
In Bavaria the task was clear, maybe even obvious, but, to their credit, Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool side got it spot on by getting the away goal, inviting the hosts to have the ball and hitting them where it hurts on the counter.
That carefully-planned and perfectly-executed plan saw the Reds progress into the quarter-finals of Europe’s premiere club tournament, while giving supporters renewed optimism that this special side can indeed see the Anfield outfit lift that elusive Premier League title for the first time in almost three decades.
The fans were brought back to reality at Craven Cottage, however, as they were reminded of the magnitude of the task ahead.
The 4-3-3 that allowed Liverpool to exploit gaps in the Bayern Munich defence whenever they ventured forward was rendered somewhat ineffectual against an atypically-stern Fulham defence, and the visitors’ general inability to break down their resistance almost cost us the three points, and with it all likely hopes of finishing atop the Premier League table.
Sadio Mané continued his fine goalscoring form with what was the only move of real quality in the match, combining well with Roberto Firmino to put the visitors ahead.
Other than that, however, the Reds struggled to create and only a penalty, given away cheaply by home goalkeeper Sergio Rico and tucked away coolly by substitute James Milner, was enough to earn the three points after Ryan Babel’s second-half equaliser.
Instead, Jurgen Klopp would have been much better served by setting-up with the 4-2-3-1, giving an extra body to the attack to help overload the Cottagers’ defence and using Fabinho and Wijnaldum in the double-pivot to speed-up the transitions and act as playmakers from deep to provide defensive and attacking harmony.
Also, it would be a formation that would suit the out-in-the-cold Xherdan Shaqiri, who would bring an extra outlet of creativity to the side to help break down stubborn teams that sit back against the Reds with the intention of frustrating.
At the end of the day, Liverpool still came away from the game with three points and that is all that ultimately matters at this stage of the season.
Against a stronger opponent, however, tactical oversights such as this could cost the Reds dearly – let’s hope that the manager and players can look at this result, see that they got lucky and up their game for the remaining matches of this campaign.
After all, every game’s a cup final.