2903: Premiership; Fulham Travel Si
by : Stephen Orford
Liverpool attempt to put a dreadful week behind them when they entertain Fulham in the Premiership at Anfield on Wednesday night (March 15).
It has been seven days of torment for the Reds, who were knocked out of the Champions League by Benfica on March 8, and were beaten at Arsenal in the Premiership four days later. They now trail Manchester United by five points in the race to be runners-up to Chelsea in the league, and have played a game more as we enter the final stretch.
Compounding Liverpool’s Highbury misery was the dismissal of Spanish midfield international Xabi Alonso. Two yellow cards picked up in quick succession by the former Real Sociedad man see him miss out here, perhaps allowing Didi Hamann a start in the centre of midfield alongside Steven Gerrard. Momo Sissoko is still some way off contention after the serious eye injury he suffered in the first leg of the Benfica tie.
Jon Arne Riise has yet to recover from a thigh problem and so Stephen Warnock looks set to continue at left-back. After showing early promise in a Liverpool shirt and even earning an England call-up at one stage, Warnock has got into difficulties since his return to the side. Djimi Traore may push him for a place in Riise’s absence but boss Rafa Benitez has often favoured the Englishman over the unreliable Traore.
How Liverpool may wish they had Fulham’s options in that position. Wayne Bridge could return to the side after being injured playing for England against Uruguay, ironically at Anfield. There are problems elsewhere for Chris Coleman’s side however, with all of Antti Niemi, Papa Bouba Diop, Michael Brown and Simon Elliot ruled out through injury. Former Everton man Tomasz Radzinski may continue in a midfield role to cover some of these key absences, with Luis Boa Morte and Steed Malbranque also looking to provide the ammunition to Brian McBride and Heidur Helguson.
Liverpool’s problems with strikers have been exhaustively documented, and Djibril Cisse comes back into contention for a place up front after being left out of the 16 which faced Arsene Wenger’s side. He again battles Peter Crouch, Fernando Morientes and Robbie Fowler for the two starting berths as Liverpool look to improve their miserable goalscoring record.
The sides have already met this season, with Fulham pulling off a surprise 2-0 win at Craven Cottage on October 22. It was a result which sparked a winning run from Liverpool, who proceeded to win all of their next ten Premiership fixtures, keeping a record number of consecutive clean sheets in the process. Yet the defeat at Craven Cottage was indicative of their poor record in London this term, having suffered defeats in the capital to Chelsea and Charlton Athletic aswell as Fulham and Arsenal.
On the plus side for Rafa Benitez’s men, Fulham’s away record in the Premiership this season is woeful. They have yet to win any of their games on the road this season, picking up just three points from draws at Newcastle, Charlton and West Brom. They have been beaten in their last seven away fixtures in the Premiership, a run which stretches all the way back to December 3 2005.
Overall Liverpool’s record against Fulham is impressive. The sides have only met on 37 occasions in league football but the Merseyside club have pulled off 20 wins in that time, suffering just 6 defeats with 11 games drawn. Fulham have never won in the league at Anfield, losing on 13 of 18 visits and picking up five draws.
With Manchester United swinging into form recently second place may well be beyond Liverpool already. However, Fulham’s awful travel sickness should just about help Liverpool to the three points that they need to at least stay in the hunt.
By Stephen Orford
14 March 2006