Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez admits he has plenty of thinking to do after an already troubled season took another turn for the worse with a 3-1 defeat by Fulham here at Craven Cottage.
Saturday’s setback was Liverpool’s fifth reverse in just 11 Premier League fixtures and they trail leaders Chelsea by nine points, with champions Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham all ahead of them in the table.
Benitez also has Champions League qualification to secure and cannot afford another defeat on Wednesday away to French club Lyon, who earlier in the competition won 2-1 at Anfield.
Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, the undisputed top talents in his squad, are both struggling for fitness so Benitez is not short of problems.
“In football you have to keep calm and try to find solutions,” the Spaniard insisted.
“We have to think about what we have to do now. We have too many injuries and I have to analyse how many players I have available.”
Torres netted a fine equaliser to cancel out Bobby Zamora’s opener for the home side but was taken off after 65 minutes with the score at 1-1.
Not long afterwards substitute Erik Nevland put Fulham back ahead with a cheeky back-heel and Liverpool found themselves down to nine men after first Philipp Degen and then captain Jamie Carragher were shown straight red cards. United States international Clint Dempsey wrapped up the scoring late on.
Benitez attempted to justify his decision to rest Torres on the grounds a similar policy had worked last week against Manchester United, when he scored the first goal in a 2-0 victory.
“We decided to play Fernando against United and that was difficult because he was not 100 percent fit. Afterwards he needed four days to recover,” explained the manager.
“I took him off because we don’t want to lose an important player like Fernando for one month.”
Benitez also made it clear he would appeal against both red cards, with Degen having been found guilty of a reckless lunge at Dempsey and Carragher hauling Zamora down to prevent him going clear.
“We will have to appeal. The first one was, for me, a yellow card and the other one it was clear that ‘Carra’ was kicking the ball. I saw it on a replay. Two incidents in a few minutes when we were losing was difficult to take.”
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson had little sympathy for Degen however.
“I’m not a referee but we know you are not allowed to lunge at players and if you do in a fairly aggressive way – and don’t take the ball – then there’s a good chance of something happening to you,” he said.
Reflecting on the match, Hodgson added: “Every time you take a scalp like Liverpool’s you’ve got to be happy.”
Damien Duff’s inability to last longer than half time was a disappointment for Fulham but Hodgson was hopeful the Republic of Ireland winger would not have to miss the forthcoming World Cup play-off double header with France, although he would play no part in Thursday’s Europa League game in Rome.
“It’s an injury he has been struggling with for a while,” he said. “It stems from his Achilles, although it’s a little bit more complicated than that.”
“There is no way I would even consider him for Roma. I will ask the medical staff to take as long as they need to try to get him back into shape as quickly as they can.
“And if he’s fit for next Sunday then there’s no reason why he shouldn’t play for the Republic. It is very hard stopping Damien Duff playing for the Republic of Ireland. You have to lock him in a cage.”
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