Liverpool take advantage of tight offside call to go top of the table
Mohamed Salah opened the scoring just 14 seconds after Fulham goal ruled out
Liverpool’s Xherdan Shaqiri celebrates scoring their second goal during the Premier League match against Fulham at Anfield. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA
Liverpool 2 Fulham 0
Slavisa Jokanovic was dressed all in black and his mood would have matched the attire given the manner of Liverpool’s crucial opening goal, but this did not appear a funereal march for the Fulham manager. Bottom of the league, yes, deservedly beaten, yes; though not without giving Jürgen Klopp’s team an unusually testing afternoon at Anfield.
Mohamed Salah, with his eighth goal of the season, and a fine finish from Xherdan Shaqiri took Liverpool back to the Premier League summit as they delivered a determined response to the midweek Champions League defeat at Red Star Belgrade. The hosts were made to fight for a fifth home league win of the campaign, however, by a visiting team who felt aggrieved when Aleksandar Mitrovic’s header was disallowed for offside seconds before the all-important breakthrough.
Fulham’s sense of grievance stemmed from a lack of reward for their own impressive first-half display as much as the reading of a tight offside call.
Jokanovic stuck to his principles with a 4-2-3-1 formation, a brave call not only given the opposition but his team’s recent struggles and rumours surrounding a possible change at the top at Craven Cottage during the impending international break.
One change of note was the introduction of Calum Chambers for club record signing Jean-Michaël Seri in central midfield. The defender added stability alongside André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, helping to curb Roberto Firmino’s influence in the pockets of space he always locates, and with Mitrovic making a nuisance of himself from the start the visitors found an outlet to relieve the pressure.
In Sergio Rico, Fulham’s on-loan goalkeeper from Sevilla, Liverpool encountered another obstacle in the way of a comfortable Sunday afternoon.
The hosts created several early chances with Sadio Mané, Shaqiri and Trent Alexander-Arnold all missing the target from inviting positions. It was a performance lacking fluidity, however, until Salah and Firmino orchestrated a slick move through the heart of the visiting defence that gave the Egypt international clear sight of goal once he stepped inside the despairing challenge of Denis Odoi. Rico foiled him at point-blank range with his knees and would deny both Mané and Salah again with eye-catching saves.
But this was not a repeat of the processions Liverpool have enjoyed against the lesser lights of the Premier League this season. The first gilt-edged opportunity fell to Fulham when Mitrovic flicked Rico’s clearance into the path of Ryan Sessegnon who, beating Joe Gomez to the ball, found himself clean through on Alisson’s goal. The 18-year-old had the time and freedom to finish but not the composure, dragging a left foot shot horribly wide. Sessegnon’s reaction, beating the ground in frustration, was a fair reflection of what had been squandered.
The teenager almost turned provider minutes later with a driving run down the Fulham left that enabled Tom Cairney to set up André Schürrle. Alisson parried the German’s shot from distance and Virgil van Dijk was on hand with an important, powerful interception as Mitrovic closed in on the rebound.
Klopp was cutting an increasingly agitated figure in the technical area as the first half progressed. The Liverpool manager had his head in his hands over his team’s formation at a Fulham goal-kick and when Firmino’s brilliant pass took out three visiting defenders only for Mané’s poor first touch to waste the opportunity. But it was the men in white who departed at half-time with genuine anger.
The turning point stemmed from a well-worked Fulham corner minutes before the interval. Sessegnon and Schürrle combined to find Cairney in space on the right and, from his dangerous delivery, the unmarked Mitrovic beat Alisson with a powerful header from six yards. As the Serbian striker celebrated with two team-mates the offside flag appeared to spoil their mood. It would deteriorate within seconds. Alisson played a quick free-kick out to Alexander-Arnold on the right, the full back sent the onside Salah sprinting clear of an exposed, sleeping Fulham defence and the striker finished confidently under Rico.
Jokanovic raged at the fourth official but his ire should also have been reserved for his team’s sluggish reaction to the offside decision. It was marginal, with Andy Robertson’s heel in line with Mitrovic, but it would have been more a surprise had the goal been allowed. Liverpool went from conceding to scoring inside 14 seconds.
There was no disputing the merits of Liverpool’s second goal shortly after the restart. Rico saved superbly from Mané’s rising drive. Alexander-Arnold’s subsequent corner was over-hit but Van Dijk and Fabinho retained possession on the far side and fed the excellent Robertson. The left back sent a first time cross deep into the Fulham area where Shaqiri had ghosted away from Cairney and, with an expertly controlled volley, steered the ball beyond Rico.
There was no way back for Fulham. On this performance alone, that opportunity should be afforded their manager. - Guardian