Liverpool can jump as high as fifth tonight, should they come away from Craven Cottage with a comfortable win in their latest Premier League encounter. The Reds travel to face Fulham, the scene of one of their best wins last season, knowing that any sort of win will take them above Newcastle, but a three goal margin would almost see them displace Arsenal.
The Reds are entering what could be a crucial month for their top four ambitions. In December they face league games against Fulham, QPR, Aston Villa, Wigan, Blackburn and Newcastle. In theory each of the six is eminently winnable, but it has been the so-called ‘lesser’ sides against which Liverpool have so often struggled, and it will be perhaps a signal of their readiness to reclaim a Champions League place if they can ride roughshod over their competition this month and put themselves in a strong position.
There will be confidence flowing through the Anfield side after two wins at Chelsea, either side of a draw against Manchester City in which they largely outplayed the league leaders, and with memories of last season’s 5-2 demolition of Fulham still strong there will be an eagerness for a repeat. That game was perhaps the height of the renaissance under Kenny Dalglish so far, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Scot go into the match with a similar team.
Fulham come into the match just two points outside the relegation zone having won only twice in the league this season, their early season Europa League exploits perhaps taking their toll on Martin Jol’s side. They did come away from last weekend’s match against Arsenal with a very creditable draw, however, and are a in general a much more difficult proposition on their own turf.
The big news in the build up to the game has, of course, been the season-ending injury that Lucas Leiva suffered against Chelsea. The Brazilian, widely regarded as one of the best players in the Premier League this season, suffered damage to cruciate ligaments in his knee, which will requires surgery to repair and will see him out for six months. Talk has inevitably moved to a potential replacement in January, but until then at least it is likely that Jay Spearing will be given a chance to prove his worth.
The Reds go into the match otherwise unchanged in their squad, Steven Gerrard remains sidelined after an ankle infection, but it is once again difficult to predict whom Dalglish will select in his starting eleven.
Fulham are likely to be without former Chelsea winger Damien Duff, though both Moussa Dembélé and Clint Dempsey are set to shake off injury. The Cottagers’ play often centres around former Liverpool midfielder Danny Murphy, and the Reds will have to be wary of the veteran’s ability if they are to claim victory in the match.
Schwarzer; Baird, Hughes, Hangeland, Riise; Ruiz, Etuhu, Murphy, Dempsey; Dembélé, Zamora
Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Bellamy, Spearing, Adam, Downing; Kuyt, Suárez
“Danny is a very, very good player and the two games I played against him for Blackpool last season were probably the two most difficult games I had.
“Wherever you go in this league away from home you know it’s going to be difficult, but if we can go to the capital and pick up points like we have been doing then that’s important,” said the Scottish international.
“We have done very well against Arsenal and Chelsea twice, so hopefully we can do that again against Fulham.
“Our performance against Manchester City, which we should have won, and Chelsea in midweek showed we are heading in the right direction.
“It will be an open game. Fulham have got a good manager and a good team but if we can perform like the lads did towards the end of last season, then we are confident we can get the right result and that is a victory.” Charlie Adam knows he’s in for a tough game against Danny Murphy, but hopes that Liverpool can continue their good away form.
“The strength of your squad is the ability of the ones who don’t play as often as the others.
“There are some of the lads who started the other night who would like to have played more often than they have done, but there is strong opposition here for places. It’s great credit to them they can go out and put in a fantastic performance like that.
“It does make it more difficult, but it makes it more pleasant as well when you watch them play.
“It’s never easy to leave anybody out. They train all week and want to play, but until somebody allows us to put 20 on the pitch we’re going to have a problem.
“All they can do – and they’ve done it to their great credit – is keep themselves fit and prepared. If they keep themselves prepared, they give themselves the best opportunity of impressing – and they certainly were impressive on Tuesday night.
“I don’t get any enjoyment out of leaving anybody out of the team. You can sympathise with them if they’re disappointed – but then you’d be disappointed if they weren’t disappointed.” Kenny Dalglish insists that the performance of some fringe players in the Carling Cup win over Chelsea has made his job even harder.
7 – Liverpool will be looking to record their 7th consecutive away victory in all competitions. Since the defeat at White Hart Lane, Liverpool are not only unbeaten at home, but have won against Brighton, Everton, Stoke, West Brom and Chelsea (twice).
0 – These sides have not played out a draw at Craven Cottage in the Premier League era.
1,170 – Pepe Reina and José Enrique are the only two players to have played every single one of the 1,170 minutes of league football for Liverpool this season.
28 – This is Fulham’s 28th competitive game of the season, having entered the Europa League in the preliminary rounds. It will be Liverpool’s 18th match of the campaign.
Whilst I do not expect a repeat of last season’s mauling of the West Londoners, a game which was a true privilege to watch, I do expect Liverpool to come away with their seventh successive away day victory. Since the defeats at Stoke and Tottenham, the Reds have been superb on the road and, at the start of a potentially crucial month in their chase for fourth place, I expect them to come through and claim another three points.
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