Supersub Torres rides to Reds' rescue
Liverpool 2-0 FulhamUnlikely as it is that a chant of 'attack, attack, attack' will displace 'You'll Never Walk Alone', it is being heard with increasing frequency from the Liverpool supporters.
There was an anguished version in the stalemate at Blackburn and an ironic rendition against Besiktas. As long as Fulham resisted at Anfield today, the pleas became increasingly desperate. Attack, attack, attack.
But, while Liverpool did, their efforts were futile until Rafa Benitez, as he is prone to do, rotated. It is no understatement to say that the introduction of Liverpool's record buy changed the game.
Yet Fernando Torres was consigned to the sidelines for 70 minutes because of a rare reluctance to rotate. An unchanged team is almost anathema to Benitez, yet this was an unusual occasion when he ignored his usual policy. Perversely, it provided a vindication of rotation as loyalty to a winning team was misplaced.
After his first identical selection in 13 months and his second in just 160 games, Benitez is unlikely to repeat his experiment in a hurry, however, as all Liverpool proved for 70 minutes was the depths Besiktas plumbed to concede eight goals to a side without Torres.
'After the game of the other day with eight goals and playing really well, you have three days [to recover] but you could see today that two or three players today were really tired,' said the Liverpool manager, in the unusual position of being forced to justify not making changes.
Will we witness a repeat? 'If we score another eight goals, I will do it again,' grinned Benitez. At least now the Liverpool players know what they have to do to be guaranteed back-to-back starts. It's simple, really: score eight goals.
For long periods today, one appeared unlikely. That Liverpool did score was a direct consequence of their alterations, in particular in the introduction of speed in the final third. Yet, in the process, both Torres and Ryan Babel indicated why they are required from the start.
'It's good to have these problems for me to decide which players you leave in the stands or in the squad,' added Benitez. 'To see Fernando coming back and score such an important goal was really good. The idea was to keep him on the bench if we needed something.'
Liverpool did need something and Torres obliged. While abject defending was partially responsible - allowing Jose Reina's long kick to bounce into the path of Torres - it was notable that Liverpool finally had a forward with the pace to exploit such mistakes. The Spaniard turned inside Aaron Hughes before wrong-footing Antti Niemi with a calm finish, with Reina running 90 yards to celebrate a rare goal. 'I think he mis-hit it,' said Lawrie Sanchez, a view that put him very much in a minority. 'It's a soft goal.'
Before then, with Andriy Voronin playing 'between the lines', as Benitez terms it, and Peter Crouch being well policed, Liverpool struggled to stretch Fulham. A second goal soon followed when Crouch was tripped by Carlos Bocanegra, outside the box, and referee Steve Tanner awarded a penalty that Steven Gerrard converted.
'It's not a penalty. It's a goal that shouldn't be given,' added Sanchez, though his concerns about the effect upon Fulham's goal difference suggested he is already concerned it will prove the difference between relegation and survival.
Sanchez has had a rapid rethink on the merits of protectionism in football. Having called for the transfer window to be scrapped earlier in the week, he now proposes, albeit light-heartedly, a limit on the value of substitutes. 'They brought on three subs - £25 million [Torres], £10 million [Babel] and £5 million [Lucas Leiva]. There should be a transfer cap on what you're allowed to bring off the bench - say £20 million.'
That would have suited Fulham. Though Crouch had hit the bar, Niemi was defying Liverpool until Torres emerged to add vitality to the attack, Babel came on to end the alliance of the two full-backs, Fabio Aurelio and John Arne Riise, on the left flank, and even Javier Mascherano departed, replaced by Lucas. A surfeit of changes is the most frequent charge levelled at Benitez, but all were required and all succeeded.
What began as a rare case of continuity ended up as an advertisement for rotation.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Fernando Torres - For 80 minutes Antti Niemi and Aaron Hughes were competing for the award, but Torres decided the game.
LIVERPOOL VERDICT: An inability to win at Anfield is a reason why, though unbeaten, their title challenge has foundered. Only lowly Derby had departed pointless before Fulham lost. While Gerrard's station in the centre of midfield helps in home matches, this game displayed why the forward partnership should consist of Torres and one other. Babel, so often a substitute in the Premier League, would be a welcome sight in the starting 11, too.
FULHAM VERDICT: They arrived with a leaky defence and dreadful away form. The result may not change that, but Niemi's excellent form should provide encouragement. Danny Murphy and Simon Davies provided some neat touches in midfield, too, but the concern for Sanchez should be that Shefki Kuqi, making his full debut in attack, contributed little.
TRUE PROS: The Korean journalists who got their photo taken with Rafa Benitez.