One swallow doesn’t make a summer, and in this case one win doesn’t make Liverpool top four contenders.
Their performance against a lacklustre Fulham was arguably their most impressive of the season, and likewise the Cottager’s put in perhaps their most disappointing.
Everything seemed to click for Liverpool on Saturday evening. Stewart Downing, playing on the right wing tormented the Fulham defence in what was his finest game in a Liverpool shirt.
Fulham started the match very poorly. Martin Jol fielded a very defensive-minded team.
Berbatov was the lone striker, playing in front of a midfield five that primarily had the objective of stifling Liverpool’s passing game.
Alex Kacaniklic and Ashkan Dejagah, playing on either flank, were supposed to be Fulham’s go-to men when starting counter attacks, but the plan never came to fruition.
Within ten minutes Jol’s defensive strategy was rendered useless when Martin Skrtel volleyed a loose ball inside Fulham’s box after the away side failed to deal with a Steven Gerrard corner.
Liverpool went on to dominate the half and indeed the whole game. Ten minutes before half time, Liverpool’s captain effectively killed off the game by having been brilliantly played in with a reverse pass from Stewart Downing.
Fulham’s performance was somewhat predictable. They’ve won only one game on the road this season and have collected only seven points in total away from home.
The performance is cause for concern for Martin Jol. As gifted as Dimitar Berbatov is, he should not be deployed as a lone striker.
He works best by coming deep and playing others into attack; not chasing aimless balls and playing with his back to goal. Moreover, when your side is chasing a two-goal lead away from home, the Bulgarian is not a figure who will try and rally his team mates into closing the deficit.
He spent considerable time in the second half lambasting his fellow players for lack of movement and poor passing.
Jol decided to throw on Hugo Rodallega for the second half, but the Colombian made little difference. Liverpool continued to dominate and Downing rifled a shot past Mark Schwarzer to make it 3-0.
Finally, in stoppage time, Luis Suarez got in on the act with a fourth Liverpool goal to up his league tally to eleven goals.
A win on Saturday was crucial for Brendan Rodgers and his side. Having embarrassed himself last week by speculating on his side’s chances of a top two finish before watching his side collapse against Aston Villa, a win was vital in order to keep the fans off his back.
They now finish the year with visits to Stoke and QPR. Rodgers will be hoping his side can enter 2013 sitting within the top half of the table.
The New Year will not be met with celebration by Fulham however. They will be heading into January nervously glancing behind them at the relegation zone.
They currently occupy 13th position, but they are only five points away from 18th. They face Southampton at home on Boxing day before welcoming Swansea three days later.
Their first game of 2013 is away to West Brom. Those three games represent a difficult run of fixtures, given that Fulham have won only one of their last ten league games.
image: © Sanjiva