Much has been made of Liverpool’s need to rejeuvnate an ageing and ultimately underachieving squad. But a more pressing concern for Kenny Dalglish should be his squad’s worrying lack of depth. The 61-year-old fielded his second strong with one eye on the FA Cup final against Chelsea at Wembley on Saturday, but the Reds reserves were comprehensively outclassed by a fluid Fulham outfit. Brazilian left-back Fabio Aurelio was making just his second league appearance of the season and struggled to adapt to the game’s pace, while Maxi Rodriguez and Dirk Kuyt were visibly lacking first-team action. Liverpool’s challenge for a top-four finish dwindled away after a poor run of form which saw Dalglish’s side win just twice in 11 games. Meanwhile their rivals Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur pulled clear, aided by much deeper squads with a higher calibre of player than Aurelio, Sebastián Coates, Kuyt and Rodriguez.
During Liverpool’s best days under former manager Rafael Benítez, the midfield quartet of Xabi Alonso, Momo Sissoko, Steven Gerrard and Javier Mascherano were among the best collection of central midfielders around. Benítez and the foreign contingent of that group have since moved abroad, with the Liverpool captain the sole survivor. Dalglish started Jordan Henderson, Jonjo Shelvey and Jay Spearing together and it was an insight into a possible combination for future seasons. Shelvey is the most naturally talented of the trio and the former Charlton Athletic youth graduate showed glimpses of quality and linked up well with Andy Carroll and Kuyt on Tuesday. Henderson, signed from Sunderland in a £20m deal last summer, was industrious as ever but was unable to provide an incisive pass or vital bit of quality when needed. Spearing’s work ethic was rivalled only by Kuyt but his contribution to Liverpool’s sporadic attacks was minimal and his passing was one dimensional. The Birkenhead-born midfielder has enjoyed a sustained spell in Dalglish’s first-team but the return of Lucas Leiva will surely condemn Spearing to the bench next season.
Danny Murphy and John Arne Riise returned to Anfield after both spending successful spells on Merseyside before linking up at Craven Cottage. Liverpool desperately lacked Murphy’s passing ability in their midfield, while Riise provided an attacking outlet going forward which Aurelio failed to offer for Dalglish’s side, apart from the odd set-piece. The Norwegian defender was returning to Anfield for the first time since leaving in 2008, and he came close to scoring in the 63rd minute, only to be denied by his former Roma team-mate Doni. Fulham’s winner came from an unlikely source as Martin Skrtel deflected a cross past Doni to hand the visitors a sixth-minute lead – eventually amounting to their first league win in 42 top-flight attempts on Merseyside. It was the fifth time this season that the Cottagers had profited from an own-goal and the Slovakian’s unfortunate error helped Fulham end a five-game goal drought at Anfield.
Clint Dempsey continued his good record against Liverpool with a spectacular winner at Craven Cottage in the reverse fixture in January. The American midfielder took his tally to four goals against the Reds since moving to the Premier League and he was was central to a famous Fulham win at Anfield on Tuesday. The 29-year-old darted past two Liverpool challenges in the run-up to the Cottagers’ winner, evading a desperate lunge from Sebastian Coates who looked the weak-link in the home side’s defence. The former New England Revolution star combined with Moussa Dembélé late on and should have capped a fine performance with a goal but was denied by a fine save from Doni. Fulham’s talisman is reaching the twilight of his career and is yet to sign a contract extension at Craven Cottage – he could be headed for a top six club this summer.
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