Jürgen Klopp had warned that Fulham would be no pushovers. “They are a good-looking football team ... like their manager,” said the Liverpool manager. But Scott Parker’s side could consider themselves unlucky not to record a memorable victory in front of their returning supporters.
The champions missed the opportunity to return to the top of the table after Mohamed Salah’s penalty cancelled out Bobby Decordova-Reid’s opening goal. Liverpool had won their past 18 matches against promoted teams and knew that a second away victory of the season would be enough to see them overtake Tottenham, following their draw at Crystal Palace earlier in the day.
But in a lacklustre display against opponents who showed they have the capability to avoid relegation this time around, Klopp was relieved to see his patched-up team escape with a draw.
While Spurs dropping points would undoubtedly have improved his mood before kick-off, confirmation that both Diogo Jota and Kostas Tsimikas are facing up to two months out meant the 19-year-old midfielder Jake Cain was named on the bench for the first time.
Klopp said Jota does not require surgery on the knee injury he sustained by playing 87 minutes of the dead rubber against Midtjylland in midweek, but admitted “we don’t know exactly” how long the forward will be sidelined.
Until Joel Matip had to be replaced at half-time owing to a suspected back injury, there had been better news for Liverpool’s defence with the return of Alisson and Trent Alexander-Arnold from injury, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was also back on the bench for the first time since July.
Fulham have showed positive signs of progress in recent weeks – including their admirable performance in defeat against Manchester City last weekend – and their rapid start seemed to catch Liverpool cold. Ivan Cavaleiro found himself clean through inside the first four minutes but his shot was drilled straight at Alisson.
Not since the 2011-12 season, when a team managed by Martin Jol won 1-0 both at Craven Cottage and at Anfield, have Fulham beaten Liverpool, but they should have gone ahead when Cavaleiro wasted another opportunity from Ademola Lookman’s through ball. Yet the Fulham forward could feel hard done by not to be rewarded when Fabinho appeared to take out his standing foot as he attempted to cross. Andre Marriner was asked to consult the pitchside monitor by VAR but decided to stick with his original decision of no penalty.
Lookman made just seven Premier League starts for Everton before being sold to RB Leipzig last summer, but has been a key performer for Parker since joining on loan, and it was from his industry that Fulham took the lead. Alisson did well to divert his long-range effort behind for a corner, although the goalkeeper could do nothing when his defence failed to clear properly and Decordova-Reid lashed home André-Frank Zambo Anguissa’s deft pass.
On the touchline, Klopp was livid after he felt Salah had been impeded by Antonee Robinson – another Everton old boy – in the buildup but the goal stood. “It’s a clear foul,” Klopp said, “but we cannot change it.”
Despite their manager’s appeals for greater effort, Liverpool’s response to falling behind was unusually sluggish. After another dangerous run from Lookman had almost created a second goal for Fulham, Sadio Mané missed a golden opportunity to equalise when he nodded over a dinked cross from Curtis Jones, before Salah was off target with a snap shot inside the box.
Klopp could not wait for half-time, sprinting across the pitch and down the tunnel, swiftly followed by his opposite number, Parker. Jordan Henderson was pressed into emergency service in central defence for the second half and came close to equalising after Cavaleiro and Salah exchanged chances at either end within 60 seconds of the restart.
Alphonse Areola’s reaction save denied Henderson after he exchanged passes with Roberto Firmino before Fulham’s defence stood firm to block a goal-bound effort from Jones after a corner.
It always seemed as if Liverpool would need a stroke of good fortune to find a way through, and it came when the substitute Aboubakar Kamara was adjudged to have blocked Gini Wijnaldum’s free-kick with his elbow. Salah looked grateful to see his penalty go in despite Areola’s best efforts.
A brilliant run from his own half by Jones that required another strong save was the closest Liverpool came to snatching all three points, although even Klopp admitted that would have been far more than they deserved. “When you can’t win, don’t lose,” was Henderson’s fair assessment.