Friday, February 14, 2014

Going to Extremes: Liverpool 3 - Fulham 2

photo by Grant Neufeldvia PhotoRee

In which another last gasp goal secures three more points for Scott's team....
"Polar Opposites" is the only way to describe Liverpool's last two games. At one extreme, we have the 5-1 thrashing of Arsenal last Sunday at Anfield. While at the other we have the nail-biting, sofa pounding, face-in-hands frustration that was only relieved by an incredibly fortuitous penalty, converted with aplomb by the timeless Steven Gerrard.  Many are already asking if such a win away at lowly Fulham is a sign that the Reds are finally ready to start winning the close ones instead of drawing against the likes of West Brom. For me, it is too early for such speculation, out loud at least. But there is something to the question.

Yet another howler by poor Kolo Toure, slicing an unpressured clearance into his own goal, gifted the home side the lead within 10 minutes and it wasn't until Gerrard's sublime through ball was bounced off the post and in by Daniel Sturridge that Liverpool leveled.  Unfortunately, a second half lack of communication among Simon Mignolet, Jon Flanagan and Martin Skrtl, resulting in a hapless clearance attempt by the Slovak, gifted yet another lead via a Darren Bent tap in.

That's when determination, skill and Lady Luck sided with the Reds. With the ball almost continuously in the home side's half from then on, Philippe Coutinho cut in from the right and found the cure for his erratic shooting - a deflection.   Then, when nearly all hope was lost in the 90th minute, a defensive blunder by Fulham sent Gerrard to the spot and he did well to beat the diving Stockdale who had guessed correctly. A hard-earned, lucky 3 points.

Meanwhile, back at Anfield a few days earlier, Liverpool looked a different team against a high-pressing Arsenal side that conceded 4 times in the opening 20 minutes. Boy I hope everybody continues to try the high defensive line...

Martin Skrtl and Raheem Sterling each bagged a brace while Sturridge continued to add to his tally also before a woeful tackle attempt by Gerrard led to a consolation penalty.

This was complete domination due to the skill, intensity and tempo that Liverpool relentlessly thrust upon the discombobulated Arsenal squad. Such was the disruption in their midfield ranks that Ozil was literally spun around and sat down by the lively Jordan Henderson before the notching his assist.  The former Sunderland player has come of age, forcing me to retract my disparaging remarks from last year.
Meanwhile, Sterling has turned into a complete menace to the opposition. Now much tougher than last year, his shielding buys him time to make the quick pass or turn on the boosters to turbo past incredulous defenders flailing in his wake. And while Sturridge still occasionally shoots when he should pass, there is no denying his finishing ability and importance to the team.

But it is Luis Suarez who continues to impress me. Now without a goal in 3 games, he remains the most influential player on the field. Whether it is by setting up clear goal-scoring chances (which he has done 50% more often than anyone else in the league, including the likes of Hazard and Ozil) or by drawing the wary attentions of at-least-once-burned defenders, and thereby opening up spaces for his rampaging teammates. All this accompanies his continuing maturity on the field which is plainly obvious to all but the most biased of observers.

Going to extremes - domination then luck. We'll need it all to succeed in a very tight race to the finish.
This is farlieonfootie wishing our readers a Happy Valentine's Day on February 14.

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