Assuming that they’ve picked themselves up off the grass following last weekend’s bruising by Christian Benteke, Liverpool return to Anfield on Saturday knowing that another failure in front their home fans simply isn’t an option.
The loss to Aston Villa meant that the Reds enter their final home league game of 2012 having won just five Premier League matches at Anfield in the calendar year. By any definition it is subpar, and although taking that total up to six won’t drastically alter that opinion any time soon it will at least give supporters a happier Christmas.
Yet Fulham know that a victory at Anfield―where they won for the first time in their history last season via a Martin Skrtel own goal―will take them above Liverpool in the table at the weekend, with Martin Jol surely desperate to improve on recent form, which has seen Fulham win just one of their last nine matches, including becoming Queens Park Rangers’ first scalp of the season last weekend.
Here’s where the game will be won and lost for Liverpool at Anfield:
Freshening things up
After the Villa loss, Brendan Rodgers admitted that players such as Joe Allen and Raheem Sterling are in drastic need of a rest given their hectic playing schedule this term. And although the boss bemoaned the fact that he doesn’t have the players available to replace them, perhaps he should look again.
Jordan Henderson and―providing he’s overcome the facial injury he picked up against Udinese―Nuri Sahin are more than capable of coming in to replace Allen if the Welshman needs a breather, whilst the same came be said for using Oussama Assaidi if Sterling needs a rest too. In a week where he’s made the headlines for other reasons, Suso could also come in in either position.
So Rodgers has options then, and he could be wise to shuffle his pack to keep Fulham on their toes.
Lucas on Berbatov
Dimitar Berbatov has been given a license to thrill in this Fulham team, and is much less restricted than he was during his time at Tottenham and Manchester United―for whom he once scored a hat-trick against Liverpool.
He is likely to drop deep in a bid to try and affect the game, and it is there that Lucas Leiva can pick up the Bulgarian and look to restrict his impact.
Berbatov has struggled somewhat since a hamstring injury ruled Bryan Ruiz out of action until the new year, and with his link-up play with Hugo Rodallega not quite as crisp as it is with the Costa Rican, the Reds will be looking to limit the No. 9’s influence on the game. If Lucas is on form then he can do just that.
Getting players close to Suarez
As Adel Taarabt showed for QPR last weekend, Fulham’s defenders can find it tough when players are running at them at pace―see also Jermain Defoe recently―and so adding the skills of Luis Suarez to that equation means that Liverpool are likely to always be looking for their Uruguayan at every opportunity.
There is of course nothing new in that, but where the Reds struggled last weekend was that they failed to get enough players close to Suarez to be able to benefit from his good work. Whoever is selected in the two most advanced central midfield positions against Fulham―namely Steven Gerrard and one other―will have to do their utmost to get into the box on a night when Liverpool are likely to have more than a few chances, whilst the same can be said of the wide men too.
Tighten up at the back
Taking nothing away from Paul Lambert’s excellent young Aston Villa side, but last Saturday was probably the worst that Liverpool had defended all season.
Both Daniel Agger and Skrtel had off days at the same time, meaning that Benteke and Villa could punish the Reds’ lack of cutting edge in brutal fashion when they broke forward.
The pair, helped by those in front of them, will have to be on their guard against Berbatov and Rodallega here, and whilst the suspension of Fulham’s Steve Sidwell removes a goal threat from the visiting side they will still pose problems from elsewhere that the Reds’ defence will have to answer.