Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool have a swagger, increasingly brought to life under the Northern Irishman and put on show yesterday by Daniel Sturridge. The latter’s hat-trick will have fans convinced they can break into the top four of the Premier League next year.
But be warned. As with in the latter stages of Kenny Dalglish’s first half-season, Liverpool are showing glimpses of class when the wheels are in motion. An eye-opening 5-2 win at Craven Cottage in May 2011 promised much from Dalglish, but the following year brought little.
Rodgers’ collective are finishing this season in similarly blistering fashion, but he will want consistency from August. “I think that we can have an exciting season next year, we are all building towards that, but we need some depth in the summer,” said Rodgers. “We’ve got goals in the team, our creativity also alongside the goalscorers was very good. We are trying to build a team of winners that are technically brilliant.”
They failed to break Fulham early on despite their possession, falling behind in the 33rd minute after Sascha Riether crossed for an unmarked Dimitar Berbatov to head home. Riether looked offside, but Rodgers should reserve any complaints for his defence.
Three minutes later Sturridge gained a yard on Aaron Hughes before lashing past Mark Schwarzer for 1-1. Berbatov went close from another Riether cross, with Jamie Carragher at first struggling to deal with the Bulgarian in his last away game as a Liverpool player. Rodgers switched to 4-4-2 after the break, employing Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson to quash Fulham’s wide threat.
After the home side appealed for a Lucas Leiva handball inside the area, Liverpool took the lead. Philippe Coutinho’s wayward effort fell to Sturridge, who slotted into the corner from 10 yards. He was twice denied a hat-trick by Schwarzer, whose opposite number, Pepe Reina, then superbly kept out Hughes’ header.
But Sturridge finally claimed his hat-trick five minutes from time, lofting the ball over Schwarzer after a glorious pass by Coutinho.
Fulham hit 40 points early and seemed to relax. A dreadful April turned them away from the top half, leaving a sour taste to what seemed a palatable campaign. “I don’t think there’s something wrong with the application or the mentality, the only thing is, if we have to chase the game, we look vulnerable,” said manager Martin Jol. “I think if you lose seven or eight players of course you need to bring in more quality to strengthen the squad.”