Ragged Reds suffer stalemate
Fulham earn deserved point on Merseyside
Last Updated: 23/11/08 2:44pm
Torres and Pantsil clash at Anfield
Fernando Torres endured a frustrating return to the Liverpool first XI as Fulham earned a deserved 0-0 Premier League draw at Anfield.
Torres made his first appearance in Rafa Benitez's starting line-up since overcoming a hamstring injury but the Spanish star could not find a way past a well-organised Fulham team.
Benitez controversially opted to name midfielder Xabi Alonso among his substitutes as Lucas Leiva was offered an opportunity alongside Javier Mascherano, and Fulham comfortably dealt with the tactic.
A lacklustre first half ended in stalemate but Robbie Keane could, and probably should, have addressed that issue when denied from point-blank range by Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.
At the other end, Jose Reina was called into action to stop an excellent curling Jimmy Bullard effort as goalmouth action was at a premium.
Benitez, whose side sit level on points with Chelsea at the top of the table, introduced Alonso after the interval and the substitution made an impact as the in-form Dirk Kuyt was rebuffed by a fine save from Schwarzer.
However, Fulham - who shut up shop in the second half - comfortably held on for a stalemate, with Liverpool's dissatisfaction increased by the knowledge that title rivals Chelsea drew 0-0 with Newcastle.
Fulham, who arrived having suffered just two league defeats in seven and one of the best defensive records in the division, retained the side that beat Tottenham last weekend.
But with captain Steven Gerrard out it was maybe a surprise that Benitez opted to also rest Alonso, who has been in outstanding form this season. It meant he had two holding players, Lucas and Mascherano, in central midfield and a lack of creativity.
Liverpool still started at pace, but the opening exchanges produced just one decent chance. Fabio Aurelio's 40-yard cross-field pass picked out Alvaro Arbeloa, and his lay back was side-footed just wide by Kuyt after four minutes.
Fulham were confident and effective in possession, with Jimmy Bullard and former Red Danny Murphy having plenty of the ball.
The danger signs were there when a hook from Andrew Johnson, the ex-Everton man getting a warm welcome from The Kop, forced Reina into a scruffy save.
Fulham had threatened from set-plays and the movement of Bobby Zamora, before Liverpool produced the best chance of the half.
Aurelio's ball in from the left looked to deflect off Torres and Bullard before falling for Keane after 29 minutes. But Schwarzer was out bravely to get his body in the way of the Irishman's eight-yard shot.
Then it was Reina that kept Liverpool level. Referee Mark Halsey played excellent advantage after 34 minutes when Aurelio clattered into Clint Dempsey.
Zamora raced away down the right, reached the line, before laying the ball back for Bullard to fire in a fine effort from the edge of the box that the goalkeeper turned away at full stretch.
Torres had a header that went wide and a low drive from Kuyt's pass that Schwarzer held, to underline mis-firing Liverpool's problems.
Liverpool were much sharper after the break and when Keane's pass found Torres, the Spaniard curled a fine shot just over the far angle.
Then after 50 minutes Torres surged past John Pantsil to lash in an angled effort that Schwarzer palmed away.
The crowd had been calling for Alonso's introduction from the half-hour mark, and as Liverpool's drive slowed and frustration crept in, the midfielder's name boomed down.
Benitez answered the chorus after 64 minutes, taking off Mascherano and sending on Alonso.
After 69 minutes Albert Riera's cross was met on the full by Kuyt, but Schwarzer made a fine save to his left.
Liverpool then sent on Ryan Babel in place of Riera after 78 minutes, with Nabil El Zhar taking over from Kuyt four minutes later. Fulham sent on Zoltan Gera for Dempsey after 84 minutes.
The Reds were looking ragged now, bereft of ideas, and even Alonso fired high over after being set-up by Babel.
Lucas saw a 20-yarder blocked by Pantsil and Daniel Agger saw a header clear the bar.
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|6||Shots on Target||5|
|12||Shots off Target||0|