Rafa’s Reds toothless without Torres

The Reds had numerous opportunities to beat their fellow Europa

League semi-finalists Fulham but, without the cutting edge of the

injured Torres, drew a blank at Anfield. They also came up against

a goalkeeper in good form in Mark Schwarzer, who produced a number

of saves including a fine stop from a powerful Ryan Babel drive.

Torres scored twice in Thursday’s stunning victory over Benfica but

left the field early to rest a knee injury. Manager Rafael Benitez

had expected the striker to be fit but he failed to even make the

bench. Dirk Kuyt and Lucas – Liverpool’s other two scorers on

Thursday – also had to make do with places among the substitutes

along with Yossi Benayoun as Benitez made four changes. David Ngog,

Alberto Aquilani, Maxi Rodriguez and Babel were the men to come in

but none made the difference against a resolute Fulham side.

Liverpool dominated possession throughout and Jose Reina, fresh

from signing a new six-year contract, barely had a shot to save.

Yet their dependence on Torres was again all too evident. Fulham

were able to boast their leading scorer and hero of their European

run, Bobby Zamora, following a fitness test on an Achilles injury,

but the England World Cup hopeful endured a quiet afternoon. The

Reds should have taken the lead with just three minutes on the

clock after Babel won a corner. Steven Gerrard swung the ball in

from the left and it was headed back towards goal by Daniel Agger

after touching a Fulham defender. It fell invitingly for Babel

inside the six-yard box but the Dutchman failed to make any

connection with a volley. Gerrard created a chance for Ngog with a

superb crossfield ball into the area but the Frenchman had to

stretch and volleyed wide. The tone for most of the afternoon was

set with Liverpool much the livelier side but meeting continual

frustration in the final third. Another good move by Liverpool saw

Gerrard pull back a Glen Johnson cross for Aquilani, who then

flicked the ball up and attempted an overhead kick but Schwarzer

saved comfortably. Moments later Rodriguez took the ball down in

the area to shoot but Schwarzer blocked. Babel then delivered a

good cross for Aquilani but the Italian headed over. Mascherano

tested Schwarzer with a powerful 30-yard drive just after the

half-hour but the Australian saved well to his right. Greening,

already booked, was fortunate to escape a second yellow card for

blocking Johnson 10 minutes before half-time as Liverpool continued

to dominate without breaking through. Liverpool pressed on and

created three good chances for Aquilani after the break but the

former Roma midfielder was unable to take any of them. The first he

scuffed weakly at Schwarzer before winning a corner with a shot the

keeper palmed over the bar. The ball came to him again soon after

but this time he sliced wide from 25 yards. Fulham spent large

spells defending on the edge of their own area as Liverpool

continued to push but they did so manfully, getting plenty of

players behind the ball. Gerrard got in a shot on target but Aaron

Hughes blocked and Daniel Agger volleyed wide. Schwarzer also

seemed unbeatable, producing a brilliant save low to his right to

keep put a fierce drive from Babel, cutting inside from the left.

Liverpool attempted to freshen up their attack by introducing Kuyt

and Benayoun midway through the second half while Fulham withdrew

the isolated figure of Zamora. Kuyt was straight into the action

and picked out Sotirios Kyrgiakos with a good cross only for the

Greek to head over. Another substitute, Daniel Pacheco, also had a

powerful effort blocked. Time ran out for Liverpool and, not for

the first time this season, their supporters left frustrated.