LONDON — Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at Fulham was setback enough for Jurgen Klopp’s side, but as they played half the match without a recognised centre-back on the field, it further emphasised the need for the Premier League champions to find reinforcements in January.
Liverpool were poor in the first half, and Fulham could have been three goals to the good but for the excellence of the returning Alisson. He kept out two Ivan Cavaleiro efforts, but was powerless to stop Bobby Decordova-Reid‘s wonderful goal. Liverpool dominated the second 45, but clear-cut chances were at a premium and they needed a Mohamed Salah penalty to break Fulham’s resolve.
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Klopp would have been pleased with how Liverpool got a foothold in the match, but would have found their first-half performance alarming, failing to have a touch in Fulham’s box in the first 30 minutes of the match. “We could have lost it in first half hour, could have won it in the last 60 minutes,” was Klopp’s take. Liverpool looked rusty, but take nothing away from Fulham; they were magnificent and rattled Liverpool, much to the delight of the 1,000 fans who were watching their team live for the first time this season.
But again, this was a match in which injuries hovered over this Liverpool performance. The weather was dismal and Klopp’s mood would have been hardly better after he saw Joel Matip forced off at half-time with a back injury. Klopp played down the severity of the injury post-match, but Matip was in visible discomfort in the final throes of the first half, moving awkwardly and immediately sought the physio as the team jogged back to the changing room. Klopp sprinted; a man urgently seeking answers to a first-half performance that would have to be one of the worst in his tenure, and he also had to plug the Matip-size hole in his defence.
He went for his skipper Jordan Henderson — who had a superb chance from 10 yards out in the second half but saw it well saved low down by Fulham’s Alphonse Areola — to partner Fabinho, and brought on Takumi Minamino, who helped address their struggling first-half transitional play. But with Nat Phillips the only other recognised centre-back on the bench, it revealed how thin Liverpool’s resources are in that position.
Having already seen Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez ruled out for the season, and Dejan Lovren leaving for Zenit Saint Petersburg in the summer, Klopp’s side are effectively three centre-backs down from the spine that guided them to the Premier League title last term.
“Injuries are difficult as a player when you see your teammates getting injured isn’t nice,” Liverpool skipper Henderson said. “The way Joe Gomez happened was hard for me to take. It’s tough for players. It makes us stronger in the dressing room to keep fighting, keep going.”
Liverpool will monitor Matip now, with the centre-back already missing six of their 12 top-flight…
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