Steven Gerrard at Liverpool? The moment may be closer than anyone could have imagined
ANFIELD – The day Steven Gerrard brought the title to the Rangers, the club with the deepest place in his heart continued to disintegrate.
There is no doubt that Gerrard will one day succeed Liverpool but the time may be closer than anyone could have imagined.
It was their sixth straight loss at home and their season comes down to Wednesday night’s meeting against Leipzig in the Champions League. Liverpool will defend a two-goal lead, an equation that would once have been quite routine. These are very changed days, however.
It does say something for Liverpool, a club that has always valued loyalty, that a plane flies over Anfield dragging a banner. In almost all clubs, the banner would have demanded the immediate dismissal of the manager. This plane had flown to support Jürgen Klopp, proclaiming “Unity is strength”.
The Liverpool manager could argue his side have been unlucky in a way they haven’t often been in those disastrous three months.
After an abject first half, they played with a forgotten desire. Neco Williams had had a scorching time at right-back by Ademola Lookman, but now the 20-year-old has produced a nice cross that Diogo Jota has met beautifully on the fly.
The shot was aimed at the top corner of the net until Alphonse Areola, throwing himself high to his right, pushed it back with one hand. It was a winning save – one of the goalie moments of the season.
The rest of the game was played almost entirely in Fulham’s half. A looping header from Naby Keita drifted over Areola and struck the intersection of the post and crossbar.
It would be usual to say that Fulham defended desperately in the second half, but they defended smartly and heroically, embodied in the slippery interception of Joachim Andersen in his own six-yard box and the way Harrison Reed kept Liverpool at bay at the central midfielder.
Before the break, Fulham, who had won only once at Anfield in their history, was obviously the top team. They are now in the relegation zone purely on goal difference and appear much better equipped to survive than a Brighton side who protected the term ‘unlucky’ or a Newcastle side in a familiar state of civil war.
Scott Parker, who watched the game wearing a cream-colored blazer over a waistcoat, something Roger Moore could have worn on a cold day in Switzerland, faces a formidable array of devices. However, he confirmed that for reasons of superstition he would not change his jacket.
“The manager gave us confidence,” Reed said afterwards. “He talked about coming here and winning. Not to score a point but to come here and win.
“The first half was superb, one of our best performances of the season. We knew we had to dig deep and put our bodies in danger and we did. We wanted it more. It was evident in the field.
Asked about Reed’s claim that Fulham wanted him more than Liverpool, Klopp retorted that “the winner is always right”. There have been too many winners at Anfield recently.
The Liverpool manager had made seven changes from the squad that lost to Chelsea on Thursday night, in part to protect Champions League players.
At first there seemed little difference in performance. Fulham attacks brilliantly from the start. Ademola Lookman, on loan from Leipzig, showed his employers on Wednesday how vulnerable Liverpool can be.
The breakthrough came just at half-time. Ivan Cavaleiro’s free kick was directed by Andy Robertson towards Mohamed Salah on the edge of the box.
Thursday evening, Klopp had removed his talisman after 61 minutes claiming that his performance had “lacked intensity”. What he was doing now lacked common sense. He dragged on the ball, was dispossessed by Mario Lemina, who shot fiercely through a crowded area and into the corner of Alisson Becker’s net for his first goal for Fulham since arriving on loan from Southampton.
It says a lot about the imbalance between the two teams that it was the first goal scored by a Fulham player at Anfield in 15 years.
Accompanying Klopp’s program notes was a photo of one of the many banners that adorn the Kop. It represents Klopp striking the air. Between him is the European Cup and the Premier League trophy and the words: “They’re all laughing at us. They are all laughing at us. They all say our days are numbered.
Until the end of the year, no one laughed at Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Now the giggles must stop.