7 July 2014

Fulham Football Club - Game Of The Season

After giving it much thought, I've come down in favour of the following match, even though we lost. Why? Pure drama, great entertainment, and a result both sides were proud of. It was also René Meulensteen's last match in charge, so we'll be looking at it, primarily, from a Fulham aspect. 

Anyway, René Meulensteen makes one change from Fulham's hard-won point at Old Trafford three days previously, starting Darren Bent who scored the equaliser for Fulham over Muamer Tankovic. Brendan Rodgers makes no changes.

The match kicks off and straight away Fulham are on the attack. Ryan Tunnicliffe, playing in only his second Premier League match, is laid off by Darren Bent in acres of space and fires the shot away, only to be brilliantly stopped by Liverpool's Simon Mignolet. Fulham's intentions are clear. They may have played defensively at Old Trafford but today they're on the attack.

Things then become comical for Liverpool. In the eighth minute Steven Gerrard is too busy ball-watching and allows Lewis Holtby to open up Kieran Richardson. Richardson scuffs his cross for Tunnicliffe's intentional tap-in, but Kolo Touré does Tunnicliffe's job for him as he mis-kicks the ball into the back of his own net past Mignolet. 

FULHAM 1 - 0 LIVERPOOL (K Touré OG 8'')

William Kvist's celebrations for Fulham earns him the first yellow card of the match, and then things get a little better for Liverpool as they have their first chance of the game owing to some virtuosic moves from Luis Suárez, forcing a save from Maarten Stekelenburg. From the resulting corner, which is cleared by Dan Burn, Touré's night goes from bad to worse as he bundles the referee over after a foul on Darren Bent by somebody. The cynics say it's to stop Holtby from taking the free kick quickly - and considering the positions of the Liverpudlians, one has to agree with them!

Suarez then fires one into the stands before an interesting shot comes up - and, in hindsight, one can make head or tail of it: a close-up of René Meulensteen is shown. In my season review, I hypothesised what the board may or may not have been thinking with regards to René Meulensteen's sacking. Remember, one source told me that the decision was made before the Manchester United and Liverpool games. Is that a tear I see in René's eye, knowing full well he's on his way out? 

A slip from Tunnicliffe deflects the ball to Steven Gerrard who provides an excellent one-touch long ball to take Fulham's defenders out of the equation, and the ball is met by Daniel Sturridge. The finish isn't excellent but that's not important. Liverpool are back on level terms. 

FULHAM 1 - 1 LIVERPOOL (D Sturridge 41'')

Now, thanks to the magic of PowerPoint, we can show you René Meulensteen's defensive tactics. He's brought Steve Sidwell and Kvist, Fulham's two central midfielders, into the defensive line, leaving six in it (although in this shot left back John Arne Riise has left the line to close Sturridge down). In the diagram on the right hand side, the white line is Fulham's defensive line of five (in this case), but the downside is that this opens up space in the central midfield, highlighted in the black and red circle, which Sturridge is running into.

That's half time.

In the second half, more Suárez antics take Sascha Riether out of the equation momentarily although Sascha Riether's sheer pace allows him to catch up with, and eventually foul, Suárez. Riether is given a yellow card. 

The resulting free kick fizzes across the face of the goal and clips the post on its way out, and Fulham breathe. A tough little spell for Fulham, as Phillipe Coutinho picks up a yellow card.

A few minutes later, Sidwell shoots from his own half, and Mignolet only just saves it. If that had gone in it would have been goal of the season unquestionably. 

Then Suárez shoots and it hits the post. Surely a third goal is around the corner in this match??

It doesn't take long. A Fulham throw-in results in a cross from Riether, and as Jon Flanagan, Maarten Skrtel, Darren Bent, and Simon Mignolet collide, Richardson's there, he's unmarked, he can't miss... and it's in! Predictably, Richardson is booked for taking his shirt off in celebration.

FULHAM 2 - 1 LIVERPOOL (K Richardson 63'')

Kieran Richardson is substituted off in the 71st minute and Alexander Kacaniklic comes on. Then, out of the blue, Coutinho equalises with a brilliant equaliser and Liverpool have equalised! A shot from outside the box deflects off Kvist and Stekelenburg has no chance. 

FULHAM 2 - 2 LIVERPOOL (P Coutinho 72'')

Then, very sadly and worryingly, in the 75th minute, Suárez knocks the ball forward and both Suárez and Stekelenburg go for it. Stekelenburg pounces on the ball and, rather sadly, Suárez then makes contact with his eye and Stekelenburg is knocked unconscious. Maarten Stekelenburg has to be substituted off and David Stockdale comes on.

Raheem Sterling comes off for Joao Carlos Teixeira in the 82nd minute, and in the very last minute Riether lunges at Sturridge inside the penalty area. A stupid foul and the referee points to the spot, as Phillipe Coutinho comes off for Daniel Agger. Gerrard doesn't miss the penalty, and it's all over. 

FULHAM 2 - 3 LIVERPOOL (S Gerrard 90+1'')

The whistle goes. And that's it. A thousand Fulham hearts sink. Two days later, René Meulensteen is shown the door. 

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