It’s been a tough time recently on our travels. Saturday 12th January, the start of Stoke City’s current demise, and our last road victory in the league. A worrying statistic, especially as our next two games come on the road, in the space of five days, and against teams with decent home records.
We are 7-3-5 on our travels this season, not terrible, but our last four in the league have seen us lose three and draw one. Although Everton’s point at Arsenal helped us out last night, I think we have to take four points from these two games if we want to secure Champions League football next season.
After capitulating to a draw at Reading after being 2-0 up with 3 minutes left, we lost to Newcastle, Man City, and then Southampton in the league, meaning we may well look back at that period if we fail to finish in the top four come May 19th.
Optimism isn’t exactly surrounding me when I talk about these two games, Fulham have won three of their last four at home, and our last two meetings at Craven Cottage have ended in draws, as well as all of our last five meetings. Torres has scored just twice in 9 games against the Cottagers, and both were in a Liverpool shirt.
There are rumours he will be brought back into the fray tonight, but I really hope we stick with Ba. Fulham have a strong presence at the back in Hangeland and Senderos, and how often has Torres caused a nuisance to these types of centre-backs? Rarely. It will be down to the likes of Mata/Hazard/Oscar to unlock the defence, leaving us to deal with the industrious Ruiz and Berbatov, which Fulham will look to bring into play at any opportunity.
Ba is simply the much more sensible option, giving him the chance to hold up play, and bring the forward three into attacks, exposing Riether and Riise at full-back. Tottenham did this perfectly when they came to the Cottage in December, using the same 4-2-3-1 formation, Lennon and Bale ran riot, much like Hazard and Mata should do tonight. Dempsey almost played right behind Defoe in that instance, and provided the hold-up play when needed.
I think Fulham is the game we must win, meaning we can go to Anfield on Sunday not pressured to win. Of course two wins would be ideal, but if we can take 6 points from these 2 games, I think we should we awarded third-place there and then on merit. Liverpool have been formidable at home this season, with a 8-4-4 record, but loses against West Brom and Aston Villa in the league, as well as last weeks draw against West Ham, proves they aren’t always the massive force you expect any more.
We’ve only won once in our last seven against the Reds, even that was an FA Cup victory at the Bridge. However, with little for them to play for now, I think we are well capable of going there and getting at least a draw, and lets be honest, four points from these two games would be ideal, especially as we will travel to Old Trafford next on the road, a game which will mean little more than pride for them, whilst we should be scrapping for our lives to get into that top four.
It’s five straight home wins for us in the league, and I have confidence we can beat Swansea, Spurs, and Everton in our final three, meaning our away fixtures will be massive in deciding our final league position.
With our big ambitions and extravagant summer spending, the top four is a must if we want to fulfill our goals next season, and although a European victory would be good, league position certainly has to take priority.
By Brad Smith