Match Report: Stewart Downing finally finds his feet as Liverpool run riot against Fulham
Liverpool 4 Fulham 0
Saturday 22 December 2012
Even Stewart Downing managed to score and muster an assist. Those facts – both were the winger's first for the club in the Premier League during 45 much-maligned games – neatly encapsulate how Brendan Rodgers' philosophical insistence might just be beginning to bear fruit towards the end of a torrid calendar year at Anfield.
If it is taking Downing a long time to prove his £20m worth, reinforcements are in the offing. Daniel Sturridge is expected at Anfield to discuss the formalities of a deal in the next two days.
This is only one result, and against notoriously poor travellers, but Liverpool linked the bossing of proceedings with a renewed cutting edge that their midfield excellence has demanded for many months.
It was, however, made all too easy for them in parts, helped by an obnoxiously awful Fulham. Even so, this performance would have daunted the best of them.
Fulham were more bothered with occupying Daniel Agger than his partner Martin Skrtel from an early corner, giving the Slovak the time to set himself and lay to rest the own goal ghost that had gifted Fulham victory here in May.
The defeat by Aston Villa last week was a distant memory. "I knew we would get a reaction today, because we have a group of very honest players who are working hard every day," Rodgers said. "The pressing was outstanding and the quality of the football was brilliant."
Liverpool have been waiting for goals to match superiority for what seems an eternity, and it all came together when Downing's wonderful reverse through ball found the onrushing Steven Gerrard (pictured below, with Luis Suarez) to slide past Mark Schwarzer.
If this can become consistent in the new year, Rodgers' belief in what is being built, will be more than mere rhetoric.
Worryingly for Fulham, Martin Jol seemed to have had it sussed on the road, but they have gone backwards this season, only winning once, and need to get over the inferiority complex imposed upon them when venturing beyond SW6.
In a role reversal of the second goal, Gerrard found Downing, driving into the box to crash an effort past Schwarzer. The goalkeeper will be upset to have been beaten at his near post, as was his manager, growling and gesticulating as he turned away from the action in disgust.
"We almost played against ourselves," Jol sighed, before turning his attentions to the table: "We've still got a good cushion and should be fine."
There was even the chance for Raheem Sterling to receive a rapturous ovation when he entered for a cameo as substitute, a day after penning a five-year deal. Everything, it seems, is starting to look slightly rosier, and Suarez's late opportunism added gloss.
Downing's slick display could see the club fend off January suitors, even though he had been made available for transfer a fortnight ago. "His reaction from that moment has been outstanding. If he keeps playing like that he'll be going nowhere," Rodgers said.
The Hillsborough charity single 'He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother' is likely to be crowned Christmas No 1 later today. If Liverpool had seen off opposition properly from August, they too might have stood a chance of being towards the top of the charts.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, Enrique; Lucas (Carragher, 83), Gerrard; Suso (Sterling, 71), Shelvey (Allen, 74), Downing; Suarez
Fulham (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Riether, Hughes, Hangeland, Riise; Dejagah, Karagounis, Baird, Kacaniklic (Rodallega, 46); Richardson (Frei, 54); Berbatov
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Man of the match: Suarez (Liverpool)
Match rating: 7/10
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