Sports Mole previews Sunday’s Premier League clash between unbeaten Liverpool and struggling Fulham, including predictions, team news and head-to-head records.
The Reds are still unbeaten in the Premier League this season and sit two points off leaders Manchester City after 11 games, whereas Fulham prop up the rest of the table courtesy of a miserable run of form.
Few would have expected the result on Tuesday night as Liverpool slumped to a 2-0 defeat in Belgrade at the hands of a Red Star team who had never before won a Champions League group game.
The result blew Group C wide open and left Liverpool with plenty of work still to do going into games against Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli on matchdays five and six, but it is the performance which may have been of greater concern.
Jurgen Klopp was keen to point out in his pre-match press conference – and with some justification – that his side cannot be expected to match their best form of last season in every game, but there have been numerous occasions this term where the Reds have fallen short of the levels they have set themselves under Klopp.
Of course, there are areas which have improved too; Liverpool have conceded just five goals in their opening 11 Premier League games and a clean sheet on Sunday would see them equal the club record for fewest goals let in during the opening 12 games of the top-flight campaign – previously set in 1977-78 and 1978-79.
The Reds also find themselves still unbeaten after 11 games of the league season – only the second time that has happened in the Premier League era – and only sit as low as third place due to an unprecedented situation which sees two other teams also yet to taste defeat.
Klopp quickly shut down talk of Sunday being a chance to improve their goal difference, which is what currently sees them sit behind Chelsea and is already 13 worse than free-scoring Man City, but it could become a factor should the title race remain so tightly contested throughout the campaign, so a return to the swashbuckling style of last season cannot come too soon for the Merseyside outfit.
Anfield is the most likely destination for that to happen; Liverpool have scored three or more goals in nine of their 15 home league matches since Boxing Day last year, while they have done so just once on the road in the same period.
The Reds average more than three goals a game at home to newly-promoted sides under Klopp too, winning all eight of their such matches since the German took over and scoring 25 goals in the process, while conceding only three.
Not since April 2017 have Liverpool lost a Premier League game at Anfield either – a run of 26 matches without defeat – and Cardiff City’s goal on Merseyside in their most recent home outing is the only one they have conceded in their last 10 top-flight games in front of their own fans.
It would be a monumental shock if Liverpool were to lose on Sunday, then, but they have already suffered one of those this week and Klopp will be demanding a reaction from his players in this one.
Recent Premier League form: WDDWWD
Recent form (all competitions): DWWWDL
It has taken a while for the Premier League sack race to get going this season – by this stage last term four top-flight managers had already lost their jobs – but the pressure is growing on Slavisa Jokanovic.
There has been no indication that defeat on Sunday could result in the Serbian losing his job, but with the international break coming up it will certainly give the Fulham board some time to think their options over.
Of course, things must be kept in perspective; Fulham are a newly-promoted team made up of a squad with very limited Premier League experience and led by someone who has never managed in the English top flight before.
However, the Cottagers raised their own levels of expectation by spending so freely during the summer, and there is no getting away from the fact that five points after 11 games is a meagre return on £100m of investment.
The situation is by no means critical at this stage, with five other teams also having won just one of their opening 11 games and just one point separating them from safety, but Fulham need something from somewhere to give them a boost amid a dire run of form.
Jokanovic’s side have lost their last six games across all competitions – including five in the league – and have the worst defensive record in the division. Indeed, their tally of 29 goals conceded is the joint-worst at this stage of a season in Premier League history.
Another loss on Sunday would see Fulham equal another unwanted record – their club streak of six successive Premier League defeats set in 2001-02 and 2012-13, both of which included losses to Liverpool – and they are one of only three teams in the top four tiers of English football yet to keep a clean sheet this season.
Jokanovic remains steadfast in his belief that Fulham do not need to alter their style, but a better balance between defence and attack is a must, with his side also possessing the worst goal difference in the division.
Indeed, for all of the talk of Fulham’s attacking qualities, they have still only averaged a goal per game this season and have netted only four times in their last seven Premier League outings – a tally nowhere near big enough to excuse or make up for their defensive shortcomings.
Fulham’s best chances to improve that area of the game may have passed with recent defeats to fellow strugglers Cardiff and Huddersfield Town considering that three of their next five league games come against members of the ‘big six’. The Cottagers have taken only one point from their last 18 Premier League games against such teams.
Recent Premier League form: DLLLLL
Recent form (all competitions): LLLLLL
Indeed, with the exception of long-term injury absentee Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Klopp reported a clean bill of health for this match, so the likes of Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne and Joe Gomez are in contention too.
Roberto Firmino started on the bench in Belgrade but was called upon at half time and is expected to come back into the starting lineup this weekend.
Xherdan Shaqiri is also in contention again having been left out of the midweek trip due to diplomatic reasons, although he may be forced to settle for a place on the bench once again.
One player who will need to watch his step is fiery forward Aleksandar Mitrovic, who is now just one yellow card away from a suspension.
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Gomez, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson; Milner, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane
Fulham possible starting lineup:
Rico; Fosu-Mensah, Odoi, Mawson, Sessegnon; Anguissa, Cairney, Seri; Vietto, Mitrovic, Schurrle
Head To Head
Fulham have a miserable record at Anfield, winning just one of their last 33 visits to the stadium and scoring only four times in the past 17 games.
Indeed, that record encompasses the whole of Merseyside; the Cottagers have lost 42 and won only one of their last 54 away league games against Liverpool and Everton, with that coming at Anfield in May 2012.
We say: Liverpool 3-0 Fulham
This looks about as close to a home banker as you can get at the moment. Liverpool are coming off the back of a disappointing European defeat, but they are very strong at Anfield whereas Fulham cannot buy a win at the moment – and even the goals have dried up.