Fulham are hunting down Newcastle and their target of Premier League survival. Three weeks ago the gap between those two teams was 10 points. Now it is three.
They have Newcastle looking over their shoulders. Scott Parker’s side have spent all of 2021 in that bottom three, but their confident performances belie their position. Since mid-December, only Manchester City have conceded fewer goals than Fulham.
Joachim Andersen is a calming influence alongside fellow centre back Tosin Adarabioyo. He’s Fulham’s equivalent of Ruben Dias.
You’ll struggle to find a defender who can hit pin-point diagonal balls as well as 24-year-old loanee Andersen. Ademola Lookman benefited from one of his long, raking passes to secure a very big win against Sheffield United.
That’s a great weapon and one that could hurt Liverpool and their high line on Sunday.
It is fine to hold a high line, but you have to know when to drop if there is no pressure on the player delivering the forward pass.
Liverpool, in using non-specialist central defenders, have been caught out by that several times this season in one-v-one situations — with Mason Mount securing victory for Chelsea that way at Anfield on Thursday night.
Fulham lost 1-0 to Tottenham earlier that evening and the goal they conceded highlighted a possible weakness.
As highlighted in this column previously, Harry Kane was dropping deep. Fulham had a clear plan for this, whereby one of the centre backs would drop with him.
The trouble was that it left their remaining defenders exposed to the direct running of Dele Alli, who was behind Spurs’ winner.
Like Kane, Roberto Firmino may drop deep at Anfield, and Fulham’s defenders will need to think twice about leaving their back line again. If they do what they did on Thursday, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah could clean up.
Fulham do not play like a side who have been in the Premier League’s bottom three for months. They stick to Parker’s plan. It isn’t frantic football — it’s patient play.
With the ball, Fulham leave Andersen and Adarabioyo at home while midfielder Harrison Reed will drop deep alongside them or sit in front as an option to receive the ball. Both full backs then fix themselves high and wide. In left back Antonee Robinson, they have a really determined runner and great carrier of the ball.
Fulham’s forward line has enough invention in it to trouble Liverpool on Sunday, and they will be looking out for those balls from Andersen.
I like Lookman’s directness and his change of pace, which can be devastating for defenders. Ivan Cavaleiro is a tricky customer when running at you, and Josh Maja links up well and was unfortunate not to get his first Craven Cottage goal on Thursday.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek has more of a free role, operating between the lines and picking up pockets of space behind the opposition midfield.
Aleksandar Mitrovic is becoming Parker’s go-to 70th minute substitution when it’s time for them to get the ball in the box.
This team has gone through a real transformation. Only two players from the XI who faced Tottenham on Thursday started their opening game of the season against Arsenal: Reed and Cavaleiro.
There is a unique spirit among Fulham and their army of loanees. Parker has each and every one of them fighting for him and the club, even though they don’t technically belong to them. I’m not looking at any of these players and thinking they don’t belong in the Premier League. They will be hungry to inflict a sixth straight home defeat on Liverpool tomorrow.
When that invincibility disappears, anyone and everyone believes they can beat you. Liverpool didn’t lose in the Premier League at Anfield for three years. Now they can’t stop losing.
It’s five on the trot and that will encourage Fulham. It can be difficult when you know you can’t be champions. I’ve been in an Arsenal team who struggled once it hit home that we wouldn’t be retaining the title.
When does anyone want to play for second place? But if you don’t refocus and reboot, you can soon find yourselves sliding further and further down the table.
That’s what Liverpool must do now. They need to come together and set themselves new targets. That has to be a top-four finish. If Liverpool don’t win tomorrow, that will continue to slip away.
Parker used to play for Newcastle. He understands the size of that club and the enormity of the pressure those players will be under.
Such has been the quality of their play, it doesn’t appear Fulham’s players have even been looking at their precarious position in the table.
But if they don’t get anything out of this trip to Anfield, it will be hard not to look with only 10 games to go.