Craven Cottage, London
February 12, 2014; 20:00 GMT
Which Liverpool FC will turn up at Craven Cottage? That’s the question Fulham FC manager Rene Meulensteen must be asking himself as he awaits the Reds’ visit to his home ground. Will it be the relaxed, complacent Liverpool that limped to a draw against West Brom? Or will it be the slick attacking side that scored 5 goals each past two of Fulham’s London neighbours, Tottenham and Arsenal? After the spectacular dismantling of Arsene Wenger’s title contenders, one can understand why many spectators would be expecting Liverpool to wipe the floor with the team at the bottom of the League table.
Matters in football, however, are never that straight forward. This is the same Fulham side that has just walked away with a point from their match against the League champions, Manchester United. If the collective might of Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Robin van Persie was insufficient in sealing a victory against them, they must be doing something right. Onlookers are rightly questioning the logic behind Moyes’ side pinging in crosses against a team that features a 6’7” tall center-half (Daniel Burn). But that should take nothing away from Fulham’s performance, as they did a great job of sitting deep and neutralising most of United’s play. Rene Meulensteen even came out to state that David Moyes’ tactics were ‘straightforward’ and ‘easy to defend against’.
Liverpool have gotten over the sorrow of a poor winter transfer window and shown just how well they can do with the personnel at hand. Despite having a small squad which has its fair share of injuries, Brendan Rodgers has been smart in the tactics he has employed to maximise his returns from these players. In the absence of midfield linchpin Lucas Leiva, club captain Steven Gerrard has been deployed in the holding midfielder role. While he is far from the finished article, any defensive weaknesses have been compensated by his ability to distribute the ball to pretty much any part of the pitch.
Fulham FC – Team News, Line-up and Formation
Fulham’s list of injured players includes defenders Fernando Amorebieta and Matthew Briggs, and new signing Konstantinos Mitroglou who continues to struggle with a knee problem. The former Olympiacos striker became Fulham’s record signing this winter, but fans will have to wait to see the signing that has cost their club over £11M.
Mitroglou is a big miss for the London team. He is a prolific striker who had scored 20 goals last season, and has already 17 goals in 19 fixtures this season. Rene Meulensteen has been quick to integrate his signings into the team, moving a lot of Martin Jol’s regulars. Bryan Ruiz & Dimitar Berbatov have been sent out on loans, while loanees from other clubs like William Kvist (Stuttgart) & Lewis Holtby (Tottenham) have been slotted right into the first team, alongside new signings Ryan Tunnicliffe (Manchester United) & John Heitinga (Everton). Premier League veterans Scott Parker, Brede Hangeland and Damien Duff have been left warming the bench. Meulensteen has justified his selections with the draw against his former employers United, but he will need to continue to perform well to pull the club out of the the depths of the relegation zone.
There seems to be no need for the manager to change the team that won a point at Old Trafford. The only change he would consider would be bringing in striker Darren Bent in place of 18-year old Muamer Tankovic. Bent came on for Tankovic in the second half of the game against Man United, and scored the late goal that earned them the draw.
Fulham FC Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-1-1): Stekelenburg (GK); Riether, Heitinga, Burn, Riise; Tunnicliffe, Kvist, Sidwell, Richardson; Holtby; Bent
Liverpool FC – Team News, Line-up and Formation
Arsenal were, quite simply, toothless against Liverpool over the weekend. And tactically, they played right into the hands of a Liverpool side that excels at counter-attacks. If you’re going to have most of your team in the opposition half when you visit Anfield, you better ensure that you score a goal while you’re there. Because if you don’t, and you lose the ball to any of Brendan Rodgers’ boys, they’re going to counter attack at the speed of light. Arsenal were over-ambitious, perhaps a little cocky after having already beat this team earlier this season. And Wenger got his tactics wrong, and their players didn’t show half the intent that was so visibly oozing from their opposition players. That being said, the Liverpool side have at times eased off the pedal against weaker teams. This is probably Rodgers’ biggest threat going into this match.
Rodger’s injury list continues to be as long as his arm, with an entire back-line of Jose Enrique, Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho and Glen Johnson still out of commission. In midfield, Lucas Leiva is the big miss, as Liverpool’s only defensive midfielder continues his stint on the sidelines. Steven Gerrard has taken up that position, but while he has the tackling skills required, his defensive positioning is not as good as the Brazilian’s.
In recent games, Rodgers has tweaked the front three of his 4-3-3 formation, for reasons best known to him. Against West Brom and Everton, Raheem Sterling was deployed on the right wing, Luis Suarez was in the most advanced central role, and Daniel Sturridge was on the left flank. Against Arsenal, Sterling was fielded on the left flank, Sturridge was central and Suarez played more to the left. It must be said that in both cases, Sturridge and Suarez regularly swapped roles, making them well nigh impossible to mark as a unit. Against Fulham’s deep defensive line, it is likely that Rodgers would prefer to use Suarez’s trickery, rather than Sturridge’s pace, to unlock the opposition defence. So one can expect him to use the line-up from the Everton and West Brom games prevail here.
Liverpool FC Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Mignolet (GK); Flanagan, Skrtel, Toure, Cissokho; Gerrard, Henderson, Coutinho; Sturridge, Suarez, Sterling
- Liverpool have struck the woodwork 19 times this season, five more than any other side.
- Luis Suarez has scored 23 goals in his 20 appearances this season, one less than the entire Fulham team have scored in 25 games.
Statistics Source: Four-Four-Two, Whoscored
Player to Watch Out For
Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)
Raheem Sterling earned some well deserved plaudits for his performance against Arsenal, where he bagged 2 goals. But that was a situation where the opposition was often playing high up the pitch, leaving a lot of space for the winger to exploit. This will not be the case at Craven Cottage, where Fulham will sit deep and defend. Instead, Liverpool will need to count on their Brazilian maestro, Philippe Coutinho, to unlock the opposition. Philippe has been enjoying his new, deeper role, and was constantly looking to thread through balls into the feet of Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling. His vision will be critical in unlocking a stubborn defence like Fulham’s.
Fulham 0-2 Liverpool
Fulham need their new signing “Kostas” Mitroglou to come in to the side and start scoring goals for them. But if he is not at full fitness, it makes sense that Meulensteen would not like to risk him against a Liverpool side that just demolished Arsenal 5-1. Better to have him fit for upcoming games against sides in the lower half of the table, which will probably have a bigger say in the relegation battle. Fulham will defend deeply and hope for a draw, but between Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool should have enough to see off the team at the bottom of the League table.