James Milner’s late penalty prevented Liverpool from dropping crucial points in the title race as they claimed a 2-1 victory at Craven Cottage. Ex-Liverpool man Ryan Babel drew the hosts level after Sadio Mane’s opener, but Milner was on hand to ensure the Reds are top going into the international break. Rare error highlights need for even the best to maintain focus… You just felt like something was going to happen. One of the most important rules of football is that you have to score when you are on top, especially when it is to go 2-0 up and kill the game off. But Liverpool were unable to just that at the start of the second half, and as Fulham grew in hope and confidence, the goal that was feared inevitably came. Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson, both of whom have been brilliant this season, were both at fault for the goal as well as Milner. The trio of errors started off with Milner’s shacked clearance that was very awkward for Van Dijk to deal with. The Dutchman then massively undercooked his header back to Alisson, who was then also at fault by for some reason going in with his feet rather than diving on the ball with his hands. Babel, who looked in pain as he realised the potential dent he was putting in his former side’s title challenge, slotted home into the empty net. Rare mistakes indeed by such good players, but it needs to be a strong reminder that trophies aren’t won amid complacency and taking your foot off the gas. Jürgen Klopp will ensure this message is received loud and clear by his players, who will hopefully only learn and improve as a result. Final third play wasteful and inefficient yet again… As mentioned, the reason Babel’s goal was nearly so costly was that Liverpool were unable to put the game to bed, with wasteful and sloppy fitting words to describe the Reds’ play in the final third once again. It really has been the biggest area of weakness this season, and players picking the wrong pass or failing to take a chance are becoming regular features of performances. Adam Lallana was unable to make the same attacking impact as he did against Burnley, and the supply of crosses from Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold was often poor. Even Roberto Firmino was guilty of breaking down attacks with misplaced passes. There have barely been a handful of matches this season where Liverpool have resembled the team that were devastating in attack last campaign. Fingers will also point to the absence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or the inconsistent form of Naby Keita, but certain players on the pitch have got to do much better in the final third. Especially… Contrasting fortunes of Mane and Salah continue… Mohamed Salah. It’s like Mane gained all of Salah’s goal-scoring ability at the 2018 Christmas party, because since then things just haven’t been the same for the Egyptian. When Salah is still contributing with assists, even if he doesn’t find the net, then that is more than acceptable. But Salah is now being incredibly greedy in front of goal and even worse when it comes to his finishing. The one-on-one he had at the end was bread and butter last term, but nowadays he’s firing it straight at Sergio Rico. The break in the next couple of weeks should do Salah some good as he can hopefully clear his head, but he needs to turn things around and fast. As for Mane, his sensational form continues as he scored his team’s opener as well as winning the penalty from which they won the game. He is now joint-second in the race for the golden boot, just one behind leader Sergio Agüero. In front of goal Mane is everything that Salah isn’t at the moment, and is probably the in-form player in the league currently. Mane has really stepped up his game in recent weeks, but it would be nice if Salah would too. Win what matters most with seven games to go… Despite another unconvincing performance however, the most important fact is that Liverpool return to the Premier League summit and put the pressure back on Man City. I said in this article a few weeks ago that Liverpool need to start putting in great performances as well as winning matches, but it seems as though, for now, the wins will do. Klopp and his staff will have much to analyse and discuss from the recent games over the break, and will be plotting how to ensure that the Reds keep on winning as they aim for glory on two fronts. Spurs visit Anfield in the next league fixture for Liverpool, and despite it being an encounter against a ‘big six’ member, the Reds simply must win.
- Predicted XI: Fulham (A)
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