Liverpool beat Fulham at Anfield on Wednesday by 1-0, courtesy of a penalty kick converted by Mohamed Salah in the 39th minute, after Issa Diop was deemed to have fouled Darwin Nunez inside the box.
The contest was relatively balanced, with Fulham making things much more difficult than expected for Liverpool at this point. Marco Silva’s team were set up to defend first and foremost, playing with 11 players behind the ball whenever possible and keeping the spaces in and around their box as tight as possible.
Therefore, the fact that Fulham had less possession, which wouldn’t have been a surprise in any case, was even less so, even though there were periods in the second half when they managed to keep hold of the ball for longer spells and threaten Alisson Becker in the Liverpool goal quite seriously and on more than one occasion. That, of course, was the result of being a goal down for most of the game and needing to go in search of an equalizer, while staying focused not to concede again.
In the absence of Aleksandar Mitrovic, the suspended Serbia international, Carlos Vinicius led the line upfront and wasted two great opportunities, thwarted on both occasions by Alisson Becker.
As for Liverpool, the hosts went into the match with plenty of patience and confidence, mostly circling the box and occasionally going in to find the paths to Bernd Leno’s goal closed fast. Speaking of Leno, the former Arsenal goalkeeper was extremely good at reading the game and coming quickly off his line to deal with any ball his team’s opponents might sent over the top for Vinicius to chase.
As the match progressed into its final stages, Silva was forced to shake his attacking ranks up and have them trying as hard as possible to take a point. Bobby Decordova-Reid, Manor Solomon and Daniel James entered the fray between minutes 71 and 79, replacing Tom Cairney, Vinicius and Willian, but to no avail. In the end, the Reds saw the game through and finished with a clean sheet.
Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold was again instructed to move into the middle of the pitch while the Reds had the ball, but he was very quick to slot back to the right defensive flank whenever the back line needed him there.
Try as one might, it’s not easy to understand what exactly the Fulham defender was thinking in the situation that led to Liverpool being awarded a penalty. As it happened, his moment of madness undid everything good he and his teammates had done before and did afterwards, settling the contest in favour of the opposition.
Tosin Adarabioyo passed the ball to Diop just inside the box, and Diop had options as Antonee Robinson and Pahlinha both looked his way and kept the channels between themselves and the ball clear. He could also have gone long in search of Vinicius upfront, but instead, he did the one thing a centre-back at that level should never do – he hesitated. The second it took for him to make his mind up was enough for the pace and industriousness of Nunez to poke and steal the ball away, and instead of the ball, Diop’s leg-swing caught the Liverpool forward.
The 26-year-old defender tried to plea ‘not guilty’, telling referee Stuart Attwell he hadn’t done anything wrong, but there was simply no way for the penalty not to be given. It wasn’t even worth a VAR check; it was all too clear.
Salah stepped up and slammed the ball under the middle part of the crossbar, and the away supporters will be hoping Diop learned a valuable lesson at Anfield and won’t be doing anything of the sort again.
For Fulham, this game practically meant nothing. They could’ve hoped to fight for a place in Europe earlier in the season, but at this moment, they’re 10th with 45 points. On the other hand, had anyone offered them a spot in the middle of the Premier League table last August, they’d probably have taken it.
Liverpool, on the other hand, are still clinging to a feeble hope of finishing in the top four and qualifying for the Champions League next season, but it still doesn’t look likely. Sitting fifth with 59 points, they’ve reduced the gap to Manchester United in fourth place to four points. Erik ten Hag’s team play away to Brighton and Hove Albion on Thursday, and when that game ends, they’ll still have a game in hand on Liverpool.
Liverpool have now won five Premier League games in a row, and yet, it feels they hit the desired level of form far too late.
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