Craven Cottage, London
Sunday, May 12th, 2013; 15:00 Hrs GMT
Come the end of a season, spectators are usually making plans to visit their local pubs to watch do or die matches, with teams fighting tooth and nail to win the league, or fend off relegation. Cliches fly thick and fast through the air, about how every match is a final, how this is exactly when players earn their wages and how they need to give everything for the crest on their chest. Every point is crucial, they exclaim! Prepare for titanic, edge-of-the seat clashes!
Well, that may have been the story for a lot of seasons, but surely not this one. Except for one relegation spot and one Champions League spot, most teams pretty much know how this season is going to conclude for them.
And Fulham versus Liverpool is the ideal example of the somewhat anti-climactic ending this season has reached. The only possible point of motivation for Rodgers’ Liverpool is the extremely slim chance that they might finish above Everton, a bubble that can be burst by Moyes’ men simply by drawing the remaining two games. And the only motivation for Fulham would be a mild niggling fear of the final relegation spot, which only becomes a threat if they lose both their final games and everyone below their 12th spot position does incredibly well in the final games. While mathematically it may look to be a tenuous position, there is also an acceptance that the teams near the bottom are there for a reason, and are not likely to suddenly sprout massive amounts of talent.
A large part of the manager’s job is to motivate and drive their squad. Managers like Alex Ferguson and Harry Rednapp are famous for more than compensating for any tactical shortcomings by being solid man-managers. Put the fear of God (i.e. you, the manager) in a player and he’ll run till his legs fall off. Boost his ego and spirit and he gets that extra bit of sharpness and aggression that can mean so much in a football match.
But how do you motivate your squad when you’ve honestly got very little to play for? No soul-crushing fear of relegation, no heart-wrenching fight for the top-spot?
Martin Jol and Brendon Rodgers will, of course, make all the right noises in front of the media and the team. The team needs to finish as high up as it can. A good final position will be an important spring-board for next season. Do it for the fans, lads.
But it will all ring a tad hollow.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Fulham have been in horrible form of late, with only one point to show from their last 6 matches. Berbatov, their leading goal-scorer, hasn’t found the back of the net for over a month.In fact, Fulham as a team have only scored 3 goals in the last 6 games, 2 of which have come in last weeks 2-4 loss to Reading. The starting line-up is unlikely to see a huge overhaul from last week, with the only question being which two out of Duff, Kacaniklic (that is a tough name to spell) and Emanuelson will take the 2 wide positions. The Duff- Emanuelson combination seems most likely, with Duff having some much needed experience and crossing ability, and Emanuelson bein a slightly more consistent performer than Kacaniklic.
While Mladen Petric is back in the side after missing last weekend, expect Berbatov to lead the line with Ruiz sitting right behind him. Ruiz will be a key player for Fulham, as he is someone who can both create and score goals. With the somewhat untested partnership of Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher at Liverpool’s central defence, Ruiz’s movement and passing may turn out to be the key.
Another important factor may be Liverpool’s somewhat questionable defending from set-pieces in recent games. Berbatov and Hangeland will make promising targets for Damien Duff’s crosses.
Riise is likely to start ahead of Richardson at Left-back, being the more defensively solid of the two, while Riether should retain his Right-back spot.
Rodalegga, Kacaniklic and Richardson will provide good options for Martin Jol should his team be in need of a more attacking push towards the game’s closure
Probable Starting Lineup [4-2-3-1]: Schwarzer (GK); Riether, Senderos, Hangeland, Riise; Enoh, Karagounis; Duff, Ruiz, Emanuelson; Berbatov.
On the earlier point regarding motivation, the Liverpool players will have one reason to give a solid performance: This will the first time this season that the squad will play a League game without either Gerrard (shoulder surgery), Suarez (Ivanovich-biting ban) or Agger (back-injury) in the side. This is a grand opportunity for some of the non-stars to really show what they’re made of. A convincing win without this missing Holy-Trinity of Anfield will go a long way in announcing to the world that there is more to the team than meets the eye.
In the last two games, the first of Suarez’s 10 match ban, Liverpool have had a 6-0 free-for-all against a poor Newcastle and a cagey 0-0 against a tight Everton. It’s difficult to say which version will show up against Fulham, but one definite learning from the previous match will be that Coutinho can be a devastating passer into the final third when he takes up central positions. Rodgers should take that learning and use the kid as a central attacking midfielder, with Borini and Downing manning the flanks. A fair bit of positional swapping can be expected between Borini and the centrally deployed Sturridge, with Downing being the source of width and some (mostly wayward) direct crossing.
In the center of midfield, Rodgers will have to change his approach somewhat with the absence of Gerrard. He has recently used Lucas and Stevie G as an efficient combination at the heart of the team, with Gerrard helping both defensively (especially since Lucas still isn’t at his intercepting best these days) and in launching attacks via long forward balls. With Allen also out for the season, and Shelvey hardly being a top-notch performer, the central roles should be handed to Lucas and Henderson, who is enjoying a good spell of late. Hendo will be allowed to push forward at times, but will have to be more aware of his defensive responsibilities in the absence of Gerrard.
In defence, Carragher is having good run of games in his final season pre-retirement, but his pairing with Skrtel doesn’t really exhude confidence. Enrique, and Johnson will take up their usual roles, while Rodgers will hope Reina isn’t distracted by the rumors linking him to Barcelona.
Along with Shelvey, the bench will also be warmed by Suso and Sterling (remember them?).
Probable Starting Lineup [4-2-3-1]: Reina (GK); Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Enrique; Lucas, Henderson; Borini, Coutinho, Downing; Sturridge.
- Fulham have been losing at both half time and full time in their last 4 matches in the Premier League.
- Liverpool are undefeated in their last 6 matches in the Premier League.
- Fulham have lost their last 4 matches in the Premier League.
Players To Watch Out For
Dimitar Berbatov (Fulham)
The man is a magician. His list of tricks include mystifying ball-control and pulling goals out of thin air. Unfortunately for Matin Jol, he is also incredibly gifted at performing a disappearing act for as long as the full 90 minutes. The man can wow crowds with his silky touches and deft finishing, but can also frustrate fans and colleagues alike with his border-line casual approach to matches. The man is like a Bond-movie bad guy who spends most his time lounging on a vast leather sofa with a scotch and a cigar in hand, and gets up only to put a golden bullet into his enemy’s head.
Only one thing is for sure, on his day, Berba is an unstoppable goal-scoring machine.
Fulham 1-1 Liverpool
In a match with little at stake, where the commentators might spend more time talking about Alex Ferguson’s retirement and David Moyes’ new assignment than the spectacle at hand, the only chance of a large number of goals might come if either of the defences switch-off on occasion.
Or if one of the managers really does unleash their inner man-management skills and rally their troops to a strong performance.
Blast From The Past
Written by guest author Aditya Sharma