Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Match Report: Fulham 2 - 5 Liverpool

Liverpool may be about to be knocked off their perch by Manchester United, but they showed at Craven Cottage they might just mount a serious challenge for a 19th league title of their own next season by destroying Fulham.

The Reds made it 13 goals in their last three games and Maxi Rodriguez completed his second hat-trick over the same period, with Dirk Kuyt making it 12 goals in his last 13 matches for club and country and Luis Suarez wrapping up the rout.

The win moved Liverpool back above Tottenham into fifth place in the Premier League and left Fulham stunned as they paid the price for a horrible first 16 minutes which saw them 3-0 down.

The Cottagers threatened a comeback when Mousa Dembele pulled a goal back but they were 5-1 down before Steve Sidwell fired a late consolation.

If Jamie Carragher was worried his 666th appearance for Liverpool - moving him second on the all-time list - was a bad omen, he was in for a pleasant surprise.

It was Fulham who must have thought they were cursed as they endured calamity after calamity right from kick-off.

The first blunder came from Aaron Hughes, whose slip let in Suarez, with Carlos Salcido and Mark Schwarzer making a hash of the striker's left-wing cross and allowing Maxi to thread the ball home.

The shocking defending continued in the seventh minute as Chris Baird played Glen Johnson onside and the full-back crossed for Maxi to volley in from close range at the far post.

Liverpool were rampant, to the glee of the large travelling contingent, and Suarez saw a penalty appeal turned down before a absolute howler from Schwarzer made it 3-0.

There was little power in Kuyt's shot from just inside the penalty area but the goalkeeper allowed the ball to squirm underneath him at the near post, all but killing the game as a contest.

Suarez wasted a glorious chance to pull the ball back for Raul Meireles to make it 4-0 and Maxi volleyed over the top as Fulham's defending in wide areas continued to be non-existent.

Fulham - whose only threat had been a Dembele air shot - finally got going and Dempsey saw his half-volley from Simon Davies' corner cleared off the line by Johnson.

Home boss Mark Hughes threw on Bobby Zamora for Davies at the break and Liverpool suffered a blow when Raul Meireles appeared to pull a hamstring and was replaced by Jonjo Shelvey.

That came after a Fulham free-kick, which Zamora flicked on dangerously moments before Dempsey fired just over the crossbar.

Eidur Gudjohnsen also dragged wide as the home side created more in five minutes than they had in the opening 45.

And they deservedly pulled a goal back in the 57th minute when Martin Skrtel gave Zamora the chance to lay the ball off to Dembele, who curled home beautifully beyond Jose Reina.

The keeper was furious, belting the ball into the stands and earning himself a yellow card.

Hughes would have been cursing himself for not starting with Zamora.

Liverpool remained a threat on the break, particularly through the outstanding Suarez.

But it was Maxi who killed off any hope of a Fulham fightback with 20 minutes remaining, completing his hat-trick with a stunning 25-yard drive into the top corner.

Suarez made it another five-star performance for Kenny Dalglish's men when he raced onto Shelvey's through-ball and brilliantly rounded Schwarzer to prod home the goal his performance deserved.

The Uruguayan beat the offside trap again moments later only to blaze over the top.

Dembele was replaced by Gael Kakuta before Maxi left the field to a standing ovation, with Joe Cole coming on.

Fulham kept going and, with just under five minutes left, Sidwell pounced on a loose clearance and cracked a lovely 20-yard half-volley into the top corner.

Schwarzer saved brilliantly from Shelvey, Spearing had a shot cleared off the line and Kuyt's point-blank shot was blocked by Baird in stoppage-time.

Kenny Hails Five-Star Reds

Kenny Dalglish hailed a Liverpool masterclass after they thumped Fulham 5-2 at Craven Cottage.

The Reds were rampant as a Maxi Rodriguez hat-trick set them on course for a fourth win in five games, which took them above Tottenham into fifth place.

The visitors charged into a 3-0 lead inside 16 minutes, with Maxi scoring after just 32 seconds and the Argentinian midfielder again in the seventh minute.

A Mark Schwarzer error then gifted Dirk Kuyt his fifth goal in five games before Moussa Dembele pulled one back for the hosts in the 57th minute.

But Maxi restored Liverpool's three-goal cushion in the 70th minute with his seventh goal in three games, which have included two hat-tricks, while Luis Suarez claimed a richly-deserved goal five minutes later.

Steve Sidwell hit a fine late consolation for the Cottagers but that did not detract from a great evening for Dalglish's men.

"It was a fantastic performance," the Liverpool boss told Sky Sports.

"We started really brightly, which may seem stating the obvious when you get a couple of early goals.

"But the football we played, the movement, the work-rate and the effort they put in to stop Fulham playing.

"They picked it up in the second half and had right go at us, which you would expect, but we matched them.

"Although they scored two, you can't take it away when you've scored five. It was fantastic."

Maxi has looked a different player since Dalglish took charge in January.

His latest treble took his tally to nine for the season and Dalglish feels the football Liverpool are playing is perfectly suited to Maxi's game.

"The movement of the team and anticipation has been fantastic," he said.

"The way they go about their work and the way they train is a credit to their profession.

"The wee man (Maxi) is a very clever player, he's very intelligent. If there's some movement he'll be the one that's in and round it.

"Some balls have fallen for him in the box and he's put them away, but he's been there to put them away. He's also been involved in the team movement as well.

"The fact he's playing games has helped. He had a few games off and has come back really strong.

"I'm delighted for him and delighted for everybody."

Gerrard Chasing United

Steven Gerrard insists Liverpool will be hell bent on overtaking Manchester United's record number of league successes if they win the Premier League crown.

Sunday's 2-1 success over nearest rivals Chelsea means The Red Devils are almost certain to win the Premier League crown yet again, the 12th time since the league's inception in 1992.

However, one more title means United will overtake Liverpool as the country's most successful club in league action and Gerrard admits that hurts the Merseysiders.

Liverpool have been the form team since Kenny Dalglish's return as manager and their impressive run of results leads Gerrard to believe they are now once again on the up.

Slow Start Shocks Hughes

Mark Hughes was at a loss to explain Fulham's performance following Monday night's 5-2 defeat at home to Liverpool.

The Cottagers have been in fine form over the past couple of months to consolidate a position in mid-table and Hughes was expecting another positive display against Kenny Dalglish's Reds.

However, they slumped to a heavy loss with the damage done inside the opening 16 minutes as Liverpool stormed into a 3-0 lead.

The opening goal came after just 32 seconds and Hughes conceded after the final whistle there were far too many mistakes from his troops.

"It's difficult to explain, to be perfectly honest," he told Sky Sports.

"We've been excellent in the second half of the season and none of us really expected that level of performance.

"It started in the first 30 seconds, when we didn't really deal with a bread-and-butter ball down the right-hand channel.

"From that moment it was consecutive errors, which we have talked time and time about."

Fulham improved after the interval and got on the scoresheet courtesy of Moussa Dembele and Steve Sidwell, but never threatened to retrieve a point and remain 10th in the Premier League standings.

Gerrard: Luis Suarez Can Become Better Than Carlos Tevez

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard believes Luis Suarez can go on to be a better player than Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez after the Uruguayan produced a superb display against Fulham on Monday night.

Suarez picked up the man of the match award and netted his fourth goal for the Reds in the 5-2 victory and his tireless movement was commonly at the heart of much of Liverpool’s good work.

Prompted on whether the former Ajax man reminded him of Tevez as a player, Gerrard told Sky Sports: “I think it’s natural you’re going to compare him to Tevez because of his build, his shape, the way he plays.

“But for me, what I’ve seen so far, I’m going to be slightly biased because he’s on my team and he’s one of our players I think he could go on to be better.

“He’s a midfielder's dream, as soon as you look up he gives great movement, he gives you an option all the time.

“But what impresses me even more about him is when he hasn’t got the ball. His tenacity to win it back, his attitude and in the 92nd and 93rd minute he’s trying to get a second goal, still closing defenders down, just an absolute joy to watch he was.”

Liverpool was sent on their way to victory when Suarez helped create an opener for Maxi Rodriguez after just 32 seconds of play. The Argentine went on to grab his second hat-trick in three weeks but the man of the match award was rightly given to the man with only one goal on the night according to Gerrard.

He added: “That goes to show how special Luis Suarez was, usually if you score a hat-trick you deserve man of the match but Luis Suarez’s movement, his touches, his awareness, his vision, the way he took his goal – sensational.”

Enrique Diplomatic Over Future

Reported Liverpool target Jose Enrique has declined an opportunity to offer clear assurances over his future at Newcastle.

The £9million-rated 25-year-old Spaniard has been widely tipped to leave St James' Park this summer after stalling on a new contract.

However, manager Alan Pardew has not given up hope of persuading Enrique, Joey Barton and captain Kevin Nolan to extend their deals.

Enrique played his part in securing the club's Premier League status with a 2-1 victory over Birmingham on Saturday and was serenaded by fans.

But the left-back was giving little away about what may lie ahead for him, as he told the Evening Chronicle: "It is always nice to hear that, but we will see what happens.

"The most important thing is the team. I know the fans like me a lot, but we will see."

Managers Rally Behind Dalglish For Signing

Fulham manager Mark Hughes has lauded Kenny Dalglish’s performance as Liverpool manager, and says that the Anfield club's board would be crazy not to sign the ex-Liverpool star permanently.

“You’d argue he couldn’t do anything more [to be given the Liverpool job] to be perfectly honest,” Hughes told reporters.

“There seems to be a delay in making the decision, but I think everyone would be surprised if he didn’t get it.”

Dalglish has boasted some pretty impressive figures since taking over as Liverpool manager; since January, Liverpool has been second on the table in points collected (behind title leaders Manchester United), and in their last six games, four of which they’ve won, Liverpool have bagged 15 goals at the feet of their growing group of strikers.

Hughes says that while ex-Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson didn’t do anything particularly wrong with the side, the chemistry between the players has worked better with Dalglish in the managerial position.

“They’ve got a great squad, but for whatever reason Roy found it difficult to get them pulling in the same direction," Hughes said.

“They are enjoying their football now, which is a credit to the impact Kenny has been able to have on the group.”

Gerrard: I'll Be Back For Pre-Season

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has confirmed he is on track to return at the start of next season after missing the past two months with a groin injury.

Gerrard, 30, required surgery on the problem and has not featured since the Reds' 3-1 victory over Manchester United in March.

There were fears that the midfielder may not be fit for the start of next season but after visiting his surgeon on Monday, Gerrard has confirmed he is confident of being back in action by August.

"I'm doing well," Gerrard said. "I saw the surgeon this morning and he gave me the green light to push on, so it's all looking good for me to be back for pre-season.

"I'm a month in and it's a three-month rehab. Things are going well. I just need to progress and push on now, and keep improving."

Pacheco Keen On Canaries Return

Dani Pacheco would be willing to return to Norwich City if he fails to get games at parent club Liverpool.

The Spanish forward linked up with the Canaries in March after on loan and enjoyed a productive spell with the Championship club, netting twice in six appearances.

His efforts helped Paul Lambert's side to secure automatic promotion, and Pacheco would welcome a return to Carrow Road to play Premier League football next season.

The Spain Under-21 international is planning to return to Anfield and have another shot at forcing his way into Kenny Dalglish's plans, but he admits that he will be keeping the door open to Norwich.

"I have to go back to Liverpool and see how the summer goes," said Pacheco.

"But I would love to come back here if I'm not going to get games at Liverpool."