Liverpool moved up to second in the Premier League table after a sublime 4-0 victory over a lacklustre Fulham side at Anfield on Saturday.
The Reds were keen to bounce back from last weekend’s away defeat to Arsenal in style and they did exactly that thanks to a fabulous Luis Suárez brace, alongside a Martin Škrtel header and a Fernando Amorebieta own goal after 23 minutes of play.
Whilst Brendan Rodgers changed Liverpool’s shape from three at the back to a flat 4-4-2 system against the Cottagers, Glen Johnson returned from injury and showed exactly why his presence in the team is crucial by producing a masterclass performance up and down the right hand side for 94 minutes.
Structure & Position: What Rodgers Wanted and Got From His Players
The flat 4-4-2 formation Liverpool used was slightly reminiscent of Manuel Pellegrini’s existing setup at Manchester City because both Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho relentlessly drifted inside from wide areas to join both Suárez and Daniel Sturridge in attack – just like what Samir Nasri and David Silva are both instructed to do with potent duo Sergio Agüero and Álvaro Negredo at the Etihad.
Although Fulham failed to seriously test Liverpool’s midfield because of how deep they sat in their own half in order to try and frustrate the hosts, Lucas Leiva, who completed an astonishing 97% (88) of his 91 attempted passes and won 81.8% (9) of his 11 tackles, undoubtedly put in his best shift of the season when regimented in the heart of Rodgers’ structure.
The Brazilian gave Steven Gerrard, who created four chances including two assists on the day, the freedom to conduct the tempo of the game through sensational set-piece delivery and a wider range of passing than Lucas, who kept things neat and tidy through shorter moves, whilst both Henderson and Coutinho were incredibly dangerous throughout the match.
Henderson, who created five chances including one assist and won 80% (8) of his ten tackles, again showed why he more than deserves his recent call-up to the England senior squad and Coutinho’s magic in behind the lethal ‘SAS’ partnership up top was dazzling to watch at times, with the former Inter Milan man completing 100% (3/3) of his take-ons.
But aside from the plethora of quality that came from the midfield and strikers, Johnson, whose current contract situation was a popular talking point in the Liverpool Echo last week, showed why he is indispensable to Rodgers’ plans at the moment through his overall movement and craftiness at right-back.
Attacking Hunger: Johnson’s Attacking Purpose and Importance Caught the Eye Against Fulham
As the Echo newspaper have rightly put it, Liverpool’s owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) are now being faced with a dilemma concerning Johnson, whose current £110,000-a-week deal is due to expire in 18 months time.
Although Johnson has been a dependable performer at the club ever since his move to the Merseysiders from Portsmouth for £17.5m in 2009, he will be 31 when his current contract runs out and it all depends on whether the club feel he will still warrant being one of the highest paid full-backs in world football in 2015, when the time comes for fresh terms to be offered or not.
But whilst considering younger alternatives and the financial side of things is fine, there is no denying that Johnson still has a big role to play at Liverpool until a decision is made on his future because his consistently solid displays at right-back will play its part in helping the club try to achieve their dream of securing the coveted prize of UEFA Champions League qualification.
[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”” cite=”Rodgers explained Johnson’s importance to Liverpool last month” quotestyle=”style02″] Glen is the type of player you don’t realise what you’re missing until he is not in the team. He is athletic and he started the season very, very well. I knew him as a really young player when he came in at Chelsea and he was unfortunate he just never really got an opportunity there. He then had to go to Portsmouth, get his career back on track and show there he was a good player. And rightly so, he got himself back to a massive club in Liverpool and has really shown that he’s a top player. I’ve been very impressed with Glen. [/sws_blockquote_endquote]
Against Fulham, Johnson’s attacking exploits saw him constantly maraud up the right-flank and stretch the attack. Even though the 29-year-old only completed 2 of his 8 attempted take-ons and one cross out of seven, it was the intent that was the key thing to mull over.
Johnson’s link-up play with Henderson in particular was impressive and he also managed to create three chances in the game alongside his compatriot’s regularly bright performance just ahead of him.
Having received the ball an enormous 93 times from his team-mates, the England international completed 92% (83) of his 90 attempted passes, with 26 of those successfully going into the attacking third whilst he also completed every single one (16/16) that moved into the defensive zones of the field.
With Fulham having virtually their whole team back to defend against Liverpool’s threat going forwards in large portions of the game, Rodgers couldn’t have been more pleased with the attitude his team showed to move the ball crisply, quickly and the fluidity of the link-up play completed baffled the London outfit.
Overall, Liverpool finished the game with 67.2% possession and completed 90% (647) of their 722 attempted passes. Despite having the majority of the ball and the impetus to score more, Liverpool’s pressing was also phenomenal – with Johnson being one of the stand-out performers in the defensive aspect as well as his impressive attacking menace.
Defending & Discipline: How Johnson and Liverpool’s Astuteness in Both Aspects of the Game Stifled Fulham
Whilst Martin Jol’s gameplan was never really engineered towards putting their opponents under severe pressure through attack, Liverpool at the same time were all over them any time they were on the ball by winning 78% (25) of their 32 tackles and making 13 interceptions through fantastic pressing in numbers.
[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”” cite=”Rodgers thought Liverpool’s performance against Fulham was terrific from start to finish.” quotestyle=”style02″]I think first and foremost our appetite for the game was outstanding. I think that all the good football only comes off the back of our mentality to work, and I thought our work rate was outstanding. When you get good players working really hard, you see the quality and I thought a lot of our combination play was excellent today. [/sws_blockquote_endquote]
Liverpool, as a team, were brilliant in the way they forced Fulham into creating hardly any chances (4 attempts) throughout the game and Johnson, who replaced John Flanagan at right back after recovering from a jaw injury, efficiently broke up play incredibly well alongside Lucas and Henderson for example.
Johnson completed 100% (3) of his three tackles, made five of Liverpool’s 13 total interceptions and made the joint-most ball recoveries alongside Steven Gerrard with nine. Suárez’s second goal and Liverpool’s fourth came from resolute pressing, and that typified the complete performance which has put them just two points behind league leaders Arsenal.
In conjunction with making three clearances and winning one of his two aerial duels, Johnson didn’t commit any of Liverpool’s 13 fouls during the clash – which again symbolised their desire to persistently seize the ball back – but did suffer one foul himself.
Another win for Liverpool keeps them in everybody’s thoughts as being not just Champions League hopefuls, but potential title contenders and Johnson’s exhibit against Fulham proved why that is a possibility should he stay fit for the remainder of the season.
Nobody yet knows what the future may hold for Johnson and his Anfield career, but it’s safe to say that he will remain a key player in Rodgers and Liverpool’s quest to gain entry into club football’s biggest tournament for the meantime.
Glen Johnson heat map via Daily Mail Online ‘Match Zone’