Liverpool 1 (Salah, penalty, 39 minutes)
It was all rather tame compared to the drama and fury of Liverpool’s last home triumph but Jürgen Klopp may have welcomed the serenity of Fulham’s visit to Anfield. A fifth Premier League win in succession, Liverpool’s best run of the season, maintained his team’s pursuit of European football and brought yet another milestone in the outstanding Anfield career of Mohamed Salah.
Salah’s decisive first-half penalty, awarded after a soft foul by Issa Diop on Darwin Núñez, ensured the Eygpt international became only the third player in Liverpool’s history to score in eight consecutive home matches. Salah’s latest strike took him to outright fifth on the club’s all-time league goalscorers’ list and just one behind Steven Gerrard’s tally of 186 in all competitions for Liverpool. He also requires only one more to hit the 30-goal mark for the fourth season out of seven as a Liverpool player.
There was a nervous finale as Carlos Vinícius and Bobby Decordova-Reid went close for the visitors, who defended admirably but for Diop’s careless lapse shortly before the break.
Salah, Núñez and Luis Díaz would have been most people’s idea of Liverpool’s first-choice forward line at the start of the season, and an enticing prospect too, but it has remained little more than an idea due to a serious knee injury sustained by the Colombia international and a difficult debut campaign for the Uruguay striker. The trio started together for only the fifth time against Fulham and showed both flashes of rich promise as a combination as well as understandable rust.
Liverpool dominated possession from the off but the visitors were a threat on the counterattack throughout the first half, passing their way bravely through midfield and prospering down their right flank. Fulham created the first real opening when Tosin Adarabioyo’s lofted ball sent Harry Wilson scampering clear of a dawdling Kostas Tsimikas, who was starting at left back in place of the rested Andy Robertson. The former Liverpool winger steered his cross beyond Alisson’s reach towards Carlos Vinícius only for Virgil van Dijk to slide in and clear the danger with a superbly timed intervention. Vinícius did get a clear sight of goal from another accurate pass out of defence from Adarabioyo. The centre-forward turned sharply and held off Van Dijk on the edge of the area but his goalbound drive was tipped away at full stretch by the Liverpool goalkeeper.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, Salah and Díaz all went close to opening the scoring from incisive Liverpool attacks but Fulham were coping comfortably with the pressure when Diop gifted the hosts a breakthrough. The central defender, starting as a result of Tim Ream being ruled out for the remainder of the season, dawdled too long when receiving an Adarabioyo pass across his penalty area. By the time he swiped at a clearance, and missed, Núñez had nipped in to take the ball off Diop’s toes and went tumbling over the challenge. Referee Stuart Attwell immediately pointed to the spot, VAR backed the on-field decision, and Salah reprised his spot-kick routine from Sunday against Tottenham to drive down the centre of Bernd Leno’s goal.
It was such a soft way for Fulham to undo 39 minutes of solid, intelligent work but Liverpool accepted the invitation gratefully.
Silva grew increasingly frustrated at Fulham’s passive response to falling behind but that was down to Liverpool’s endeavour more than any failing on his team’s part. The home side pressed relentlessly whenever Fulham attempted to build from the back, with Jordan Henderson and the energetic Curtis Jones joining the front three in shutting down the escape routes. Núñez drove wide when played through by the Liverpool captain shortly after the restart and Salah blazed over after Díaz had picked out the goalscorer at the end of his flowing run through Fulham’s central midfield.
Cody Gakpo, introduced for Díaz as Klopp sought the comfort of a two-goal cushion, forced Leno to save from a tight angle.
The second half was a relatively subdued affair with Fulham keeping Liverpool at bay while lacking the counterattacking threat that sharpened their first half performance. It reappeared late on, however, when Willian broke into space down the left and squared to Vinícius as the forward sprinted into the penalty area. His first touch took him clear of Liverpool’s backline and left him with Alisson to beat from close range. Not for the first time this season, the Brazil international came to his team’s aid with a superb reflex save, turning away Vinícius’ shot with a strong right arm and keeping Liverpool on course for another hard-fought victory. – Guardian