Benitez's tinkering adds to Liverpool plight over missed chances

Fulham 2 Liverpool 0
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The Independent Football

A return of five goals in eight Premiership matches suggests Rafael Benitez's diagnosis is accurate, but what of the cure? Having allowed the obvious antidote to join Newcastle, the Liverpool manager is left to tinker with various permutations of Djibril Cissé, Fernando Morientes, Luis Garcia, Peter Crouch and Harry Kewell.

Tinker he does, trying four different combinations at Craven Cottage, all of which drew a blank.

That this might be part of the problem was underlined when an attack expired after Cissé, breaking down the right flank, whipped his cross across the six-yard-line while Morientes pulled away for the cut-back. It was a misunderstanding indicative of unfamiliarity.

Benitez brushed aside suggestions that the rotation policy was a contributory cause.

With Liverpool's demanding schedule - they have already played 18 games this season, seven more than Fulham, and must travel to Japan in December - he has little choice but to rest players when he can. But asking them to constantly switch positions as well cannot help.

Having failed to sign Nolberto Solano and Simao Sabrosa, Benitez does not have the wide players to fit his preferred 4-2-3-1 system.

Until the transfer window reopens the answer, it seems, may be to play Cissé, the club's leading scorer, on one wing and the underachieving Harry Kewell on the other.

However, the Australian no longer appears to regard himself merely as a winger, instead styling himself on the multi-purpose model epitomised by Thierry Henry. When Kewell was in his Elland Road pomp and Henry settling in at Highbury, this may have seemed plausible but Kewell has not trained on.

Still only 27, a year younger than Henry, Kewell might yet recover his youthful vim but, in the meantime, Benitez has an unbalanced and inconsistent team.

Often excellent, though still profligate, against Anderlecht in midweek, they were ordinary at Fulham, failing to take advantage when the home side, without a league win since August, surrendered space and pulled back to defend Collins John's first-half goal.

That was partly due to Tony Warner, the Merseysider who sat on Liverpool's bench many times without playing.

On Saturday he came off Fulham's when Mark Crossley suffered a hamstring injury and denied Morientes, Luis Garcia, Sami Hyypia and Cissé.

But it was also due to Liverpool's failings. The Champions' League triumph of May seemed as distant as those of the Bob Paisley era. Was it all a mirage? It was not just the wasteful forwards. Mohamed Sissoko and Xabi Alonso were sloppy in midfield, the full-backs' judgement was awry, and neither centre-half will be happy with the second goal.

Both Fulham's goals were just onside, the linesmen applying the new interpretation (an attacker is onside unless there is daylight between him and the last defender).

For the first Gonzalez Josemi dived in on Steed Malbranque then played John onside from Claus Jensen's astute pass. The second began with one of many interceptions by the influential Papa Bouba Diop, Luis Boa Morte finishing after neat interplay with Malbranque.

In the absence of a genius like Johnny Haynes, who was sensitively mourned before kick-off, hard work, and what the Australians call mateship, should keep Fulham up.

Liverpool have loftier aims but Jamie Carragher admitted: "If we carry on like this, it could be a difficult season. It's a good job we are doing well in Europe because it would be really depressing if we weren't doing well there either."

Goals: John (30) 1-0; Boa Morte (90) 2-0.

Fulham (4-1-4-1): Crossley (Warner 63); Volz, Goma, Bocanegra, N Jensen (Rosenior 69); Diop; Malbranque, C Jensen, Boa Morte, Elrich (McBride 76); John. Substitutes not used: Helguson, Rehman.

Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Josemi, Carragher, Hyypia, Traoré (Luis Garcia 59); Sissoko, Alonso; Kewell (Crouch 75), Morientes, Riise; Cissé. Substitutes not used: Hamann, Carson (gk), Warnock.

Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Liverpool Josemi, Sissoko.

Man of the match: Diop.

Attendance: 22,480.