18.12.2010, 22.55 IST, Live on ESPN
For the Cottagers, Roy Hodgson is no less than a God. He walked in at Fulham when they were in troubled waters and not only did he save them from relegation, he even masterminded their Europa League success last season.
But all that is past when Fulham travel to Anfield to face Roy Hodgson’s new club. Liverpool has, quite evidently, a rocky season so far. Things seem to be going wrong, just when they start looking up but that will not dither Roy’s focus as he is not looking to do any favours for his former club this time around.
Last week’s loss to Newcastle did not exactly reflect the Liverpool side that battered Aston Villa 3-0 the week before. However, Liverpool have improved their home record this season and after putting up formidable performances against West Ham and Aston Villa at home, they will be looking to have a go at Fulham too. New club owner John Henry and Chairman Thomas Werner have made themselves clear on the current run of results. They have stated that the club’s form is nothing but unacceptable and so Roy knows that he might be running out of time to fix things at Liverpool before they go beyond repair.
Fulham have not really struck gold since Hodgson’s departure and Mar Hughes’ appointment as the new Gaffer. The club languishes at the seventeenth spot, just surviving the relegation zone scare on goal difference; and with half the season almost done, Hughes needs his team to step on the gas. This match has come at the perfect time for Fulham, since the players do understand that the club cannot linger around the bottom of the table having being Europa league finalists the previous season. At the same time, coming up against their former manager will make it easier for them to prepare themselves mentally since they will be familiar with Roy’s way of coaching.
Fulham have drawn more games (10) than any other premier league club this season and the last thing Liverpool would want is to earn a draw in front of their home crowd. The game should have a sense of camaraderie though; for, Roy Hodgson is not the only person who is going to be up against his former club, Kop favourite Danny Murphy and new recruit Paul Konchesky will be facing their former employers as well.
Team News and Tactical Brief:
The Reds are starting to look very strong at home over the past few weeks and the Gaffer will want his side to continue with the same destructive form against Fulham. One piece of news which every Liverpool supporter was waiting to hear is that captain fantastic Steven Gerrard will make his comeback from a hamstring injury that he suffered in an international friendly a month ago. His presence is bound to strengthen the attack further.
Young striker David Ngog is expected to sit out of this game after he picked up a knock in the game against Newcastle last week. Fernando Torres was asked to sit out of the midweek Europa League fixture and Hodgson claimed that the reason to keep Torres 100% fit for the premier league game. This is justified since the Christmas period draws a very busy schedule for clubs and for a squad like Liverpool’s, where there is a lack of depth, Roy needs to be calculative about every decision that he takes.
Tactically, Liverpool has grown from strength to strength at Anfield as the season has progressed. Raul Meireles and Lucas, in midfield, have stirred up a winning combination and Hodgson will be very careful before tampering with the duo’s presence now that Steven Gerrard is back in the side. Liverpool have scored majority of their goals in this premier league campaign in the first fifteen minutes of the game, so there is no doubt that the team will start off this game with the same attacking mindset. Also, with David Ngog’s absence, Gerrard will be more than happy to play in the hole just behind Torres.
Possible Starting Lineup: Reina, Kyriagkos, Skrtel, Johnson, Konchesky, Kuyt, Lucas, Meireles, Maxi, Gerrard, Torres.
Fulham travel to Anfield without their star striker Bobby Zamora, who, although is on the road to recovery after breaking his leg, is still some distance away from regaining match fitness. Other names on the injury list are Philippe Senderos (Achilles injury), Belgian star Moussa Dembele (ankle) and Matthew Briggs (ankle).
Club owner Mohamed Al Fayed will not be the only man expecting his team to preconceive Hodgson’s tactics for this game. Mark Hughes also believes that a little memory rewind will give his team a psychological edge over the Reds. However, he cannot entirely rely on his players to backfire Roy’s once taught lessons. And to have a game of their own, Fulham’s midfield players need to fire on all cylinders.
Danny Murphy will have a pivotal role to play in ball distribution- it is what he does best. Etuhu will sit behind the back four and will look to break down any link up play between Gerrard and Torres. Clint Dempsey’s name has made it to the transfer melee this season and he will have a point to prove when he comes up against Liverpool’s defense.
Possible Starting Lineup: Schwarzer, Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Salcido, Davies, Murphy, Etuhu, Dempsey, Gera, Kamara.
TheHardTackle’s Player To Watch Out For
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool):
The Liverpool captain has made his return to the squad after a month of injury lay-off and makes his entery during a vital period for the club. His partnership with El Nino is not a forgotten one and the game against Fulham gives him a chance to reignite that spark with Torres.
Liverpool 2 – 0 Fulham
It will be difficult for the Cottagers to to come out winners against a resurgent full strength Liverpool side. Given their amazing run of form at Anfield and the return of their talismatic captain Steven Gerrard, it would be surprising if Roy Hodgson’s men could not secure all three points from this home tie.