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Mario Lemina ignites Fulham’s relegation escape with victory over crisis-stricken Liverpool

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Melissa Reddy
·3-min read
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<p>Mario Lemina celebrates scoring for Fulham </p> (Getty Images)

Mario Lemina celebrates scoring for Fulham

(Getty Images)

A sixth Anfield defeat on the spin, another without scoring. Liverpool provided their latest answer to ‘how much worse can it get?,’ in a meek rolling over to Fulham.

It was a match of zero shocks despite Jurgen Klopp shaking things up with seven changes to his starting 11. Liverpool never looked confident in their ability to score, while body language convinced that they would concede - perhaps unsurprisingly with their 20th central defensive partnership of the season.

That came to pass when Mario Lemina easily dispossessed Mohamed Salah and cracked in a fine angled finish past Alisson to give Fulham an advantage before the interval.

It was no less than the dynamic, aggressive visitors deserved. They were afforded eight shots from inside the box in the first half, while Liverpool only recorded two.

The performances of both teams were in contrast to their status as defending champions and relegation strugglers. Liverpool’s form, in truth, is what you’d expect to find from sides that dwell at the bottom of the table.

Mario Lemina celebrates scoring for FulhamPOOL/AFP via Getty Images
Mario Lemina celebrates scoring for FulhamPOOL/AFP via Getty Images

Yes, they have an injury crisis colouring their campaign, but they also still have enough quality to perform well beyond the level that they are.

The half-time reading was that the Merseysiders conceded the first goal in their six previous home fixtures - as many as in their previous 32, going back to March 2019. They had scored just once from 83 first-half shots over their last 13 league matches.

The pre-match thinking of both managers made complete sense in this context. Heading into Sunday’s fixture, Klopp insisted Liverpool would not throw in the towel on finishing in the top four. That they would not try and solidify their European ambitions by concentrating on the Champions League.

His selection contradicted that statement, even if some of the shuffling was enforced, while others were needed to spark some mental and psychical freshness given the recent woes.

Roberto Firmino and Ozan Kabak were unavailable through knocks, while Fabinho’s presence on the bench instead of the XI could be explained by easing him back into the fold after a long stretch on the sidelines.

The substitutes bench status of Sadio Mane, Thiago and Trent Alexander-Arnold pointed to a prioritising of Wednesday’s second-leg tie against RB Leipzig.

Jurgen Klopp gestures during the defeatGetty Images
Jurgen Klopp gestures during the defeatGetty Images

Travel to Bulgaria will be required for a match that was meant to be at Anfield, but given Liverpool’s form on their turf, that’ll come as a relief rather than a hindrance.

Liverpool had lost five consecutive home games for the first time in their history heading into kick-off and had gone nine hours without scoring from open play here in 2021.

Fulham’s line-up, packed with attacking numbers, told a tale of conviction of further hurting what Parker described as a “wounded animal” in a “sticky patch.”

‘This is Anfield’ has clearly shed its fear factor, the term now acting as an invitation for the opposition.

Fulham’s approach was the latest to testify to that. In the second half, the most Liverpool managed to conjure as a response to Lemina’s goal was Diogo Jota forcing a top-shelf save from Alphonse Areola.

There was a header from substitute Mane that hit the woodwork and a sustained period of chaos and pressure, but without any serious threat.

The last time Liverpool gained a point from a losing position was in December’s 1-1 draw at Fulham.

They were challenging at the top then. Now the champions of England - a descriptor which feels a trick of the mind - will be grateful for a breather in a different country and competition.