Mario Lemina deepens Liverpool's gloom with vital winner for Fulham

The only consolation for Liverpool at the end of yet another Anfield defeat is that their next official home game takes place in Hungary. On Merseyside the premier League champions have entered uncharted waters, and new depths, with a sixth successive home defeat cutting Jürgen Klopp’s champions further adrift from the Champions League pack and galvanising Fulham’s prospects of survival.

A shout of joy from Scott Parker sounded around Anfield when the final whistle sounded on his team’s invaluable victory. Fulham, the more dangerous side before the break, faced constant pressure in the second half but survived courtesy of a fiercely committed rearguard action, plus a slice of good fortune when Sadio Mané struck the woodwork. Their resilience was encapsulated by Joachim Andersen launching himself into a vital clearance with Mané poised to convert Andy Robertson’s cut-back in stoppage time. Mario Lemina’s immaculate strike on the stroke of half-time was sufficient to extend Liverpool’s unprecedented losing streak.

The Champions League was clearly on Klopp’s mind as he rang the changes before Wednesday’s “home” game against RB Leipzig in Budapest. Injuries have restricted the Liverpool manager’s opportunities for wholesale switches, and he has also been resistant to them, but not here. Seven changes to the team that started against Chelsea on Thursday was the most Klopp has made in the Premier League since his first season at the club. Mohamed Salah kept his place despite feeling the intensity of the Chelsea game, according to Klopp’s explanation for his early substitution, while Diogo Jota made his first league start since November.

While Liverpool could still boast pedigree and experience in attack, even with Roberto Firmino absent through injury, the opposite was true of their defence where Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams formed the 20th different central defensive partnership Klopp has employed this season. Il paio, boasting 10 Premier League appearances between them before kick-off, were accompanied by Neco Williams at right-back. Liverpool’s vulnerability against counterattacks, long balls and pace has been glaring irrespective of who has played in defence this term, tuttavia. Opponents no longer make a secret of how they intend to exploit the champions’ weaknesses and Fulham were no exception.

The visitors were neat in possession as always but sought to release Ademola Lookman at the earliest opportunity. First-time diagonal balls invited Lookman to attack Neco Williams regularly in the first half and, with more conviction in front of goal, Fulham would have led long before Lemina’s brilliant finish.

Josh Maja missed his side’s first opening when he ghosted in between Phillips and Neco Williams to meet Ivan Cavaleiro’s cross only to miscue a volley well wide of Alisson’s goal. Lookman, released into space by Andersen’s pass out of defence, cut inside Liverpool’s right-back but dragged his shot wide of the near post. The on-loan winger had a similar effort deflected over by Neco Williams when released by Harrison Reed. Alisson saved bravely at the toes of Maja when Kenny Tete’s cross found the striker inside the six-yard area. Cavaleiro blazed over when played through on the left. Fulham were cutting through Liverpool’s makeshift rearguard too easily, but it was Salah at fault when the breakthrough eventually came.

Liverpool seemed to have dealt with Cavaleiro’s free-kick when Andy Robertson headed clear to Salah on the edge of the area. Lemina was on the Egypt international in a flash, tuttavia, and dispossessed the striker before sweeping a precise, powerful shot into the far corner of Alisson’s goal. It was the midfielder’s first goal for Fulham and a memorable way to open his account.

Klopp’s team had threatened sporadically in the first half. A combination of the goalkeeper Alphonse Areola and the left-back Ola Aina prevented Salah capitalising on Xherdan Shaqiri’s sharp pass into the box while Jota was unable to connect cleanly when Areola failed to cut out a cross from the right. Fulham were otherwise comfortable. That luxury ended as soon as the second half commenced.

Liverpool dominated after the restart, controlling possession and thereby denying Fulham further opportunity to stretch their defence, and kept the visitors on the back foot for the remainder of the contest. For once it was not a lack of ingenuity or intensity that cost the champions in the final third at Anfield. Areola produced a superb one-handed save to keep out an immaculate volley from Jota when the Portugal international connected with Neco Williams’s cross into the area. The keeper also flicked away the loose ball before Salah could convert. Mané, on as a second-half replacement for Georginio Wijnaldum, sent a looping header against a post from Naby Keïta’s centre. Shaqiri curled just over from 20 yards out while a procession of white shirts threw themselves in the way of shots and crosses in stoic defence of three crucial points.

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