Rodriguez continues hot streak to crush Fulham

Fulham 2 Liverpool 5
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The Independent Football

Finishing fifth in the Premier League is small fry when considered against Liverpool's glorious history, particularly with Manchester United on the verge of breaking their long-standing record with their 19th title. However, it would represent a major achievement should they manage to hold off Tottenham Hotspur, who they face on Sunday, after the first half of the season, when they were 12th in the Premier League, just four points above the relegation zone before Kenny Dalglish stepped in.

Not just that, but Liverpool are ending the season in spectacular style, with 13 goals in their last three games, having also beaten Newcastle 3-0 and Birmingham 5-0. First Dalglish made Liverpool hard to beat; now he is making them wonderful to watch. This was the Liverpool of old, playing the kind of precise, destructive football that was once the trademark of teams from Anfield.

Maxi Rodriguez took his personal tally to seven goals in the last three games, with his second hat-trick in two weeks. Liverpool's goal threat however was not confined to the Argentina international, as across the team they have a hungry look about them. Luis Suarez produced another performance of the highest class up front, while in midfield Lucas Leiva continued his impressive season to orchestrate the waves of Liverpool attacks.

No Steven Gerrard, no £35m striker Andy Carroll; but nonetheless a performance of true Liverpool vintage. The question that remains unanswered is why Dalglish has not yet been appointed the club's permanent manager.

The Scot knocked back the questions on that subject after the game, preferring to credit the players for their cultured and destructive display. "To come here and score five goals was beyond our wildest expectations," Dalglish said. "If we finish fifth we will be delighted. Nobody would have anticipated the run we have had since January."

Gerrard, who spent the evening as a pundit on Sky Sports, said of the prospect of United surpassing Liverpool's 18 league titles: "It's hurtful from because we held the record for so long. But you have to give credit where it's due – they've overtaken us for the time being but the good thing from our point of view is we are on our way back up and we won't give up the fight to overtake them again – don't worry about that."

Fulham's decent home form of 2011 was ripped to shreds inside 16 minutes. The visitors opened the scoring after just 31 seconds, when Fulham keeper Mark Schwarzer made a mess of kicking a back pass away, and Rodriguez fired in from eight yards for the fastest Premier League goal of the season.

The Argentine scored again after seven minutes, this time from the opposite flank, as he finished with a left-foot volley at the far post from Glen Johnson's cross. The £1.5m it cost former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez to take Rodriguez from Atletico Madrid in January 2010 now looks to be one of the steals of recent years.

In the 16th minute, the shell-shocked Londoners conceded a third goal, when Dirk Kuyt received a simple pass from Johnson and drilled a low shot from 20 yards that Schwarzer meekly let slip through his fingers. Poor Fulham were stunned by Liverpool's blitzkrieg assault, and understandably took some time to recover their composure.

The home side posed few problems for Dalglish's team, and when they did get close to scoring, Liverpool's dogged determination, personified by Jamie Carragher in his 666th appearance for the club, kept them out.

Fulham manager Mark Hughes brought on Bobby Zamora after the break, and the England striker teed up Mousa Dembélé, who struck the ball into the bottom corner past Pepe Reina.

However Liverpool were too strong, and snuffed out the brief Fulham revival with a fourth goal, a 25-yard strike from Rodriguez to guarantee another match ball was his. The excellent Suarez added a fifth when he took a pass from substitute Jonjo Shelvey in his stride before rounding Schwarzer and sliding the ball into the empty net. Steve Sidwell struck Fulham's second goal with four minutes left, but did not bother to celebrate so complete was Liverpool's domination.

It was embarrassing for Hughes, who was booed by a section of Fulham fans despite the club's resurgence before last night's defeat. Hughes said: "It was all over after 15 minutes. That was a real body blow. We made consecutive errors for the goals, unforced errors and wrong decisions. Liverpool are a very good team, but we made them look better than they are."

Fulham (4-4-2) Schwarzer; Baird, Hangeland, Hughes, Salcido; Davies (Zamora, h-t), Sidwell, Murphy, Dempsey; Gudjohnsen (A Johnson, 67), Dembélé (Kakuta, 76). Substitutes not used Stockdale (gk), Senderos, Etuhu, Greening.

Booked Murphy, Dempsey, Salcido, Sidwell.

Liverpool (4-2-3-1) Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Flanagan; Lucas, Spearing; Kuyt, Meireles (Shelvey, 48), Rodriguez (Cole, 86); Suarez. Substitutes not used Gulacsi (gk), Kyrgiakos, Wilson, Poulsen, Robinson. Booked Skrtel, Reina.

Referee L Mason (Lancashire). Match rating 8/10.

Attendance 25,693. Man of the match Suarez.