FULHAM

v

LIVERPOOL

Craven Cottage, London

December 5, 2011; 2000 GMT

***

Monday Night Football sees Martin Jol’s Fulham play host to in-form Liverpool. With both sides keen to play a creative passing game, it promises to be an entertaining game at Craven Cottage.

After a summer which saw Jol replace Mark Hughes as manager, Fulham have had a slow start to the Premier League season. With Europa League fixtures putting extra demand on an already thin squad, the West Londoners have only picked up 12 league points so far, raising talk of a relegation battle, although many rate The Whites as too good a team to go down; but so were Newcastle two seasons ago.

Their main problem seems to be their home form, with only one win from six games at Craven Cottage. Last time out in the league though, they gained some much-needed confidence with a very creditable 1-1 draw away at Arsenal. With Mark Schwarzer superb in goal, Jolai??i??s side managed to contain a Gunners side which had been in rampant form.

Liverpool, on the other hand, are in a rich vein of form, especially away from Anfield. Unbeaten in 11 games in all competitions, Kenny Dalglish’s men can count themselves unlucky not to have become the first side to beat leaders Manchester City last weekend. This week the Reds also advanced to the semi-finals of the Carling Cup after beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge for the second time in 9 days. Currently sitting sixth in the league, the Fulham game is the first of six games in December where the Reds will be expected to pick up maximum points. A haul of around 15/16 points from the available 18, should see the Merseysiders sit comfortably inside the top four.

A big loss for the Reds

.

However, the Reds suffered a huge blow this week with the news that midfield lynchpin Lucas LeivaAi??will miss the rest of the season after suffering cruciate knee ligament damage in Tuesday’s Carling Cup win. Revered by many at the start of his Redsai??i?? career, the departure of Javier Mascherano to Barcelona in August 2010 coincided with an upturn in Lucasai??i?? form.Ai??He revelled in the added responsibility and was rightly named Reds’ player of the year last term.

This season has seen his impressive form continue. Now a regular starter for the Brazilian national team, Lucas is now starting to earn praise away outside of Liverpool, with many claiming him to be the Premier Leagueai??i??s finest holding midfielder. This theory was only enhanced over the last week, as the Brazilian international bossed the midfield battle against Manchester Cityai??i??s Yaya Toure, whilst also keeping ace playmaker David Silva in tow. The midfielder will be a huge loss for Dalglish’s side as they look for a top four finish.

Team News and Tactical Brief

Fulham

Fulham come in to the game after a 1-0 defeat, including the sending off of striker Andy Johnson, in Thursdayai??i??s Europa League match at FC Twente. To make matters worse, key winger Damien Duff, who missed last weekendai??i??s match, was forced off after only 34 minutes with a recurrence of a calf injury, making him a big doubt for the visit of the Reds. If he fails to make it, big-money Costa Rican international Bryan Ruiz is almost certain to take his place. Ruiz has so far struggled to adapt to the English game since his move from FC Twente, but he did show glimpses against Arsenal to give the Fulham faithful hope.

After struggling to cope with the Reds movement last time the teams met, Fulhamai??i??s big defence of Brede Hangeland and Philippe Senderos will hope to be facing the physicality of Andy Carroll rather than the guile of the likes of Craig Bellamy. The performances of ex-Red Danny Murphy and his midfield partner Dickson Etuhu will be vital, as Fulham must get tight to their opponents and not allow the likes of Charlie Adam to dictate the play.

Attacking wise, The Cottagers have enough in their armoury to trouble the Reds back line, with Ruiz, Clint Dempsey, Moussa Dembele and England international Bobby Zamora all capable of finding the net. They also have ex-Everton striker Johnson, who starred for the Blues in a 3-0 Merseyside derby win over the Reds in 2006. The pacy striker has also enjoyed success againstAi??LiverpoolAi??for former clubs Birmingham City and Crystal Palace.

Probable Starting line-up (4-4-2): Schwarzer (GK); Baird, Senderos, Hangeland, JA Riise; Dempsey, Murphy, Etuhu, Ruiz; Zamora, Johnson

Liverpool

The injury to Lucas opens the door for one of the other Reds midfielders to step into the mix. Youngster Jay Spearing impressed last season when called upon, whilst Jordan Henderson is more suited to a central role rather than the position he has so far deployed on the right. Then, of course, there is also the small matter of talisman Steven Gerrard, although Mondayai??i??s game at Fulham will come too soon for the recovering skipper.

Apart from choosing who partners Charlie Adam in midfield, Dalglish also has big decisions to make all over the pitch. At right-back, Martin Kellyai??i??s performance at Stamford Bridge would be enough to warrant a place in the starting eleven if it werenai??i??t for current incumbent Glen Johnsonai??i??s impressive form. In central defence, the partnership of Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel has looked strong in recent weeks, but Sebastian Coates and Jamie Carragher are pushing hard for recalls.

Moving on to the attack, Luis Suarez is certain to be recalled after being rested against Chelsea. But Dalglish has to choose whether to partner him with Andy Carroll or play Suarez up front on his own. Out wide, the Reds can either play it safe with Stewart Downing and the hardworking Dirk Kuyt or revert to the pace and movement of Craig Bellamy and Maxi Rodriguez – a tactic which served them so well in both wins at Stamford Bridge.

The Liverpool manager has many options at his disposal and he is likely to choose ‘movement’ over ‘physique’ – something which, ironically, puts Andy Carroll 4th in the preferred order. Dalglish may choose Kuyt or Bellamy to partner Suarez, or he may choose Kuyt and Downing on the wings and Bellamy to partner Suarez. The fact that you can’t ignore Maxi makes it all the bit harder.

Probable starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Reina (GK); Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Spearing, Adam; Maxi Rodriguez, Kuyt, Downing; Suarez

Key Facts

1. Fulham have failed to score in six of their last eight Premier League games against Liverpool.

2. In terms of points won, this is Fulhamai??i??s joint-worst record after 13 games (12 along with 2005-06 and 2007-08).

3. If Liverpool pick up the 3 points, it will be their 7th successive away win in all competitions

4. Maxi Rodriguez has netted 10 goals in his last 9 starts for the Reds

5. In captain Danny Murphy and John Arne Riise, Fulham will have two key members of Liverpoolai??i??s 2001 Treble winning side in their ranks

TheHardTackleai??i??s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR

Maxi Rodriguez (Liverpool)

With 10 goals in his last nine starts, Maxi Rodriguez is a player whom Liverpool can rely on when called upon. With the Reds sometimes struggling to make the breakthrough, Maxiai??i??s movement and game intelligence adds another element to the Reds attack. Fulham will be hoping the Argentine doesnai??i??t start, as he caused havoc last season, scoring hat-trick.

TheHardTackleai??i??s PREDICTION

Fulham 0-2 Liverpool

Alot will depend on the opening 20 minutes. With Lucas missing for the visitors, if Fulham can play at a high tempo and get amongst the Reds, they may well have a chance of getting something out of the game. However, with confidence high and star man Luis Suarez fresh after a week off, Liverpool should have enough to take all 3 points.

TheHardTackleai??i??s BLAST FROM THE PAST

Maxi Rodriguez hits a hat-trick as the reds triumphed 5-2 at Craven Cottage on 9th May 2011.

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2 Responses to “Fulham v Liverpool – Preview: Lucas Blow for Reds ahead of Trip to London”

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  1. Aashish says:

    The loss of Lucas is a blessing for our December run of games. Don’t get me wrong; love the player, knew he was Mascha’s heir apparent even before the 2010 season. But tactics should not be confused with player fanatics.

    Most people would like to see Spearing in, a like for a like, to continue with the 4-2-3-1 that has worked quite well for us of late. But we must not negate the fact that it has worked best against teams such as Chelsea(High back line, congested mid field), Arsenal(Fluid movement) and City(Dynamic attack line) and failed to get us 3 points against Norwich, Swansea and Man United(yes, them too) who play from deep within their halves. The problem with such a line up is the lack of a true mid field presence.

    Charlie Adam has been doing a fine job for us, connecting with the defence and playing Alonso-like balls for the attackers. We don’t need to add spearing into the mix against teams such as Fulham; 2 center backs are sufficient to deal with their forward(s). The key here would be to contain Murphy’s play making and cutting out counters. The mid field has to play higher.

    Henderson, Downing and Carroll have done just about nothing wrong this season. Downing has connected well with Enrique and Suarez and played in some great balls; the scoring drought is more of a reflection on our conservative line-up. Henderson has had brilliant moments and that’s something for a raw youngster transitioning into a top flight club. Carroll’s only mistake in the recent games, apart from the ponytail he refuses to cut of course, is the missed penalty. Then again, letting a striker in a runt take a penalty to break the tie is a cardinal football sin. At 2-0, he would have less pressure on those shoulders and could have easily finished it; it was Bellamy’s penalty at 0-0. The huge price tags on these 3 should not coerce unreachable expectations on these players. They have been playing their best game and the dividends will show soon. Sidelining them would only lead to a sunk cost of 75 Million!

    There are two positives about Maxi- his ability to arrive in the box at the right time, and his ability to stay cool in front of goal. That apart, his aging legs and weak upper body cannot really dictate the pace in the premiership. He is an impact player and has been performing his responsibilities brilliantly. Playing him week in and week out will only lead to more disappointments based on the heightened expectations.

    With this analysis, I would love to see play a 4-1-3-2 formation in our December run.

    Spearing should be employed if we are an hour in and a goal up. Kuyt should play instead of Carroll when an aerial threat is mitigated by the opposition with less agile and more physical center backs. Maxi to be played as an impact player replacing Downing or Hendo. Jonjo should get some time on the pitch, swapping with Henderson or even Suarez when the team is comfortably ahead. Skrtl and Coates should provide Carra with some respite when he is tired. Kelly should bide his time on the bench for a while; he is destined to be England’s top right back, just not yet.

    At some point this season, I felt that Kenny was a bit afraid to change things around. After some bold statements on the pitch in the last two weeks, I think it won’t be long before he starts blooding new players and even keeping big names like Suarez, Gerrard, Downing, Adam, et al on the bench for strategic reasons. 15 out of 18 points in December would place us well for Gerrard’s return in January to take on the big boys. Till then, YNWA; and a shout out to Lucas too.

    • Aashish says:

      I posted my team pick as
      Reina;Johnson,Carra,Agger,Enrique;Adam;Downing,Henderson,Bellamy;Suarez,Carrol.
      I think i placed them in tag-braces. Think you guys should enable only html link tags and disable other stuff within tag braces being read as html.