Premier Preview: Liverpool v Fulham
After several days spent coming to terms with last weekend's chastening home defeat to Aston Villa, Liverpool return to both action and Anfield on Saturday for the visit of Fulham.
The performance against Villa was as upsetting as the 3-1 result and came as a huge surprise given the preceding run of three victories in nine days which many felt was the start of a renaissance in the club's fortunes.
Defeat leaves Liverpool in 10th and the gap to the Champions League places is now back to 7 points. Fulham sit directly below the Reds with two fewer points (20) from their 17 games played.
The Cottagers have had an inconsistent season so far personified by their last two results; victory over Newcastle United followed by defeat to the previously rock-bottom and winless Queens Park Rangers.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers discussing the recent loss to Villa at his pre-match press conference: "It was disappointing, but we've had a good week this week. It was a funny day all round - probably for the first time at Anfield there was an expectancy of us to get the result, which there should be because we're playing at home.
"No game is easy in this division and you have got to give credit to Aston Villa. We weren't at our best, it was as simple as that.
"There have only been two games this year where we walked in disappointed. One was Arsenal, because we weren't at the races that day and we were punished. And also against Aston Villa."
Fulham boss Martin Jol as quoted Fulhamfc.com: "We had a good start and we are still two points ahead of our points tally from last year, but we need the points and we need the players back.
"We'll soon have Diarra [Mahamadou] and Bryan Ruiz and, before that, we have to try and get a result against Liverpool. We have to do everything we can to get a result there.
"I think if our best players are back next week, I think we are fine. And we have worked hard in training so I think we could have a result against Liverpool."
Liverpool Team News:
Spaniard Jose Enrique is set for a return after missing the previous match with a hamstring problem. The left-back, who excelled last month in a more advanced role, is likely to go straight back into the starting eleven with either Stewart Downing or Jonjo Shelvey the most likely to make way. Elsewhere midfielder Lucas Leiva could be rested as he continues to make his way back to full fitness following a lengthy period out with a thigh injury. Rodgers has also expressed his wish to leave Raheem Sterling and Joe Allen out temporarily but all three are available for selection and it is unlikely the boss will chose this game to freshen things up. Oussama Assaidi is therefore the only real doubt (knee) for the game other than long-term injured duo Fabio Borini (broken foot) and Martin Kelly (cruciate knee ligament) who are aiming for mid-January and March returns respectively.
Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique, Lucas, Allen, Gerrard, Downing, Sterling, Shelvey.
Player to watch: Luis Suarez
Suarez's return from a one-match ban against Villa was strangely subdued given the form he has shown previously this season. A fact that was emphasised by the side managing to score three times in his absence during the victory over West Ham United. His stats are still phenomenal however and for a player of his ability it is unlikely to be any more than a momentary blip. In all competitions the Uruguayan has 13 goals and 6 assists from 22 appearances this campaign. The next best in league terms for Liverpool is own-goals which tells you everything about the side's dependence on Suarez. Rodgers will be hoping he can continue to inspire for at least a couple more games before the former Swansea City boss can bring in reinforcements.
Fulham Team News:
Fulham have had an extensive injury list this season but thankfully a number of those affected are nearing a return to fitness. Mahamadou Diarra is the closest to being available and could be risked with fellow midfielder Steve Sidwell suspended for the match - although it's more likely veteran Greek Georgios Karagounis will get a game. Attacking duo Bryan Ruiz (hamstring) and Simon Davies (neck) are closing in on comebacks also but the Christmas period is likely to come too soon. Elsewhere, on-loan German full-back Sascha Riether is likely to miss out due to a hamstring injury picked up against QPR whilst the Cottagers have recalled goalkeeper David Stockdale from his loan at Hull City. John Arne Riise is in line to play against his former club for whom the Norwegian left-back made over 300 appearances in seven years.
Schwarzer, Riise, Hangeland, Baird, Kelly, Richardson, Hughes, Karagounis, Duff, Berbatov, Petric.
Player to watch: Dimitar Berbatov
Berbatov seems to have been around forever but he is still a very dangerous player with technical ability which is on a par with almost anyone. The 31-year-old is currently tied as Fulham's leading goal scorer with five and is also third in assists; stats which both indicate his continued quality at the top level. Berbatov has had an impressive career with two Champions League final appearances (one each for Manchester United and Bayer Leverkusen) and a bucket load of goals along the way including five in a single match against Blackburn Rovers in November 2010. The Liverpool defence will need to be at their best to contain the Bulgarian who, despite his languid playing style, is very adept at intelligently finding space in which to weave his magic.
Match Facts & Stats
• Liverpool and Fulham have met 63 times in their respective histories and the Reds hold the upper hand with 35 wins to the Cottagers' 12 and 16 draws. Liverpool have scored a total of 125 goals compared to a tally of 63 for Fulham.
• Fulham triumphed in both fixtures between the two sides last season (1-0 on both occasions).
• Only four sides (Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur) have scored more English Premier League goals this term than Fulham's tally of 28.
• Part of the reason for their goal scoring prowess is the fact Fulham have a higher shooting accuracy than any other side in the top flight; 53% of their shots this season have hit the target. Conversely Liverpool have the worse percentage with 38%.
• Of the 24 goalkeepers to have made at least 20 saves in the Premier League this season, Liverpool's Pepe Reina has the lowest saves to shots ratio (59.6%).
Tyne & Wear based whistle blower Mark Clattenburg is the referee appointed to this contest. As well as the high profile incident involving Chelsea and inappropriate remarks, of which Clattenburg was later exonerated, the 37-year-old has handed out more cards per game on average than any other Premier League referee this season (4.6). In his 12 games in charge Clattenburg has brandished 46 yellow and 4 red cards (all competitions). S Child and S Beck are the assistants and Andre Marriner the fourth official.
Last weekend's reality check could have a positive influence in as much as it will stop people connected to the club from getting carried away with heightened and unwarranted expectations. Rodgers didn't help the situation however by talking all week about being in the top four and even daring to dream about a potential top-two finish. With arguably the easiest looking festive fixture now gone, and without any points earned, pressure has increased on gaining all three points against Fulham. A feat which will not be easy as the Londoners have a number of classy players and on occasion this season have produced quality performances. Vital Liverpool predicts a 2-1 LFC win.
Liverpool - Premier League v Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on Wednesday 26th December 2012, kick off 7.45pm (live on Sky Sports).
Fulham - Premier League v Southampton at Craven Cottage on Wednesday 26th December 2012, kick off 3.00pm.
So that's what we think, how about you? Let us know your thoughts and predictions for the game below or vote in our poll to the right...
Click here to read former Red Mark Lawrenson's prediction
Hillsborough charity single 'He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother' is out now featuring a selection of music's biggest artists including Melanie C, Rebecca Ferguson, Gerry Marsden, Sir Paul McCartney and Robbie Williams. The track is raising money for the ongoing fight for justice. Click here for more information and to purchase.
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