LONDON — Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at Fulham was setback enough for Jurgen Klopp’s side, but as they played half the match without a recognised centre-back on the field, it further emphasised the need for the Premier League champions to find reinforcements in January.
Liverpool were poor in the first half, and Fulham could have been three goals to the good but for the excellence of the returning Alisson. He kept out two Ivan Cavaleiro efforts, but was powerless to stop Bobby Decordova-Reid’s wonderful goal. Liverpool dominated the second 45, but clear-cut chances were at a premium and they needed a Mohamed Salah penalty to break Fulham’s resolve.
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Klopp would have been pleased with how Liverpool got a foothold in the match, but would have found their first-half performance alarming, failing to have a touch in Fulham’s box in the first 30 minutes of the match. “We could have lost it in first half hour, could have won it in the last 60 minutes,” was Klopp’s take. Liverpool looked rusty, but take nothing away from Fulham; they were magnificent and rattled Liverpool, much to the delight of the 1,000 fans who were watching their team live for the first time this season.
But again, this was a match in which injuries hovered over this Liverpool performance. The weather was dismal and Klopp’s mood would have been hardly better after he saw Joel Matip forced off at half-time with a back injury. Klopp played down the severity of the injury post-match, but Matip was in visible discomfort in the final throes of the first half, moving awkwardly and immediately sought the physio as the team jogged back to the changing room. Klopp sprinted; a man urgently seeking answers to a first-half performance that would have to be one of the worst in his tenure, and he also had to plug the Matip-size hole in his defence.
He went for his skipper Jordan Henderson — who had a superb chance from 10 yards out in the second half but saw it well saved low down by Fulham’s Alphonse Areola — to partner Fabinho, and brought on Takumi Minamino, who helped address their struggling first-half transitional play. But with Nat Phillips the only other recognised centre-back on the bench, it revealed how thin Liverpool’s resources are in that position.
Having already seen Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez ruled out for the season, and Dejan Lovren leaving for Zenit Saint Petersburg in the summer, Klopp’s side are effectively three centre-backs down from the spine that guided them to the Premier League title last term.
“Injuries are difficult as a player when you see your teammates getting injured isn’t nice,” Liverpool skipper Henderson said. “The way Joe Gomez happened was hard for me to take. It’s tough for players. It makes us stronger in the dressing room to keep fighting, keep going.”
Liverpool will monitor Matip now, with the centre-back already missing six of their 12 top-flight games this term due to injury, but this means Liverpool must now buy in January if they are to maintain their multi-front trophy attack. Champions League fatigue is very real with none of England’s participants winning the weekend after the final round.
While Fabinho has done an admirable job at centre-back, and Henderson also helped cancel out any Fulham darts in the second half, their turn at the back means Liverpool missed their presence in midfield. Mario Lemina and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa were magnificent in frustrating Liverpool, and the visitors lacked their own ever-scanning, scuppering midfielders to halt the marauding Ademola Lookman and Cavaleiro.
The brightest spark for Liverpool was their outstanding 19-year-old midfielder Curtis Jones, who drove at the heart of Fulham’s defence and won the free kick that led to the penalty after Georginio Wijnaldum’s free kick was handled in the wall by Aboubakar Kamara. Jones is someone who has taken his opportunities amid the injury crisis that’s engulfed this team.
It looked like Liverpool’s worries were easing a fortnight or so ago with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Henderson all returning, but not even Liverpool and Klopp can comfortably navigate their crazy fixture schedule with their current injury list. Klopp confirmed pre-match Diogo Jota faces up to two months out with the injury he picked up midweek against FC Midtjylland, while new left-back Kostas Tsimikas was also injured. Matip joins them on the injury list, which includes Thiago, Van Dijk, Gomez, James Milner and Xherdan Shaqiri.
Liverpool did get the rub of the green with VAR, as Fabinho was fortunate to escape conceding a penalty for a tackle on Cavaleiro in the first half (although Klopp would have argued Fulham’s goal should not have stood due to Antonee Robinson’s push on Salah), but Fulham will take the most out of this game. They are improving game on game, as Parker ushers in the second iteration of this team.
The last match Fulham played in front of fans prior to Sunday’s match against Liverpool was back in February against Preston North End when they were in the Championship. Just two players from that day started against Liverpool (Cavaleiro and Decordova-Reid), and their late transfer window loan signing Joachim Andersen has been outstanding in sorting out Fulham’s worries. Lookman was also brilliant and constantly found the gap between Alexander-Arnold and Matip in the first half to keep Liverpool’s defence spinning. They also look far more settled as a team, and a return of four points from their win at Leicester, defeat to Manchester City and draw against Liverpool is a superb return for Scott Parker’s side. That early-season adjustment seems a lifetime ago, and they can take real heart from their past three performances.
It doesn’t get any easier for Liverpool with Tottenham Hotspur and Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min lying in wait on Wednesday in the clash between the top two in the table. Klopp will have to shuffle his pack again, and although his youngsters have stepped up admirably to fill the gigantic void left by the injured contingent, it’s time for Liverpool to bolster their resources in January.