Fulham 3 Liverpool FC 1 - Dominic King's verdict
HOW fitting. On the day when strange things traditionally occur, it was perhaps to be expected that Liverpool's nightmare season would take another desperate twist. But as he sifts through the ruins of this latest, self-inflicted setback - not even Fulham's most blinkered supporter would suggest their 3-1 win was achieved without help - the thought of what lurks around the corner will frighten Rafa Benitez more than anything. This, without question, has been the most traumatic five-week period Benitez has endured during his time as Liverpool manager and a sequence of six defeats in seven games is testing the patience of this amiable soul, not to mention players and supporters. He has, of course, been in tight corners before but, when the pressure has been at its most intense and the stakes have been at their highest, Benitez has found ways of escaping impending calamities that would have made Harry Houdini proud. With that in mind, it would be foolish to say losing on the banks of the River Thames means Liverpool are incapable of salvaging the remainder of this campaign, as Benitez is a man who knows the art of escapology inside out. Trouble is, though, on this occasion he finds himself having to extricate Liverpool from a increasingly deepening hole without the props he requires most of all; no wonder, then, he sported a haunted look as he left Craven Cottage on Saturday evening. Had Benitez been facing a clear week, with just a Premier League fixture next Saturday to prepare for, he would, possibly, have been in brighter spirits. Time, as everyone knows, is the greatest healer. Five uninterrupted days would have given the medical room at Melwood - which is currently bursting at the seams - a chance to clear and provided Benitez with solace that the next team he sent out would, in all likelihood, be infused with important, senior names. Yet time is something Benitez does not have; tomorrow morning Liverpool fly out to Lyon for a Champions League encounter they dare not lose but, at this juncture, few people - if any - will give them a chance of winning. It is not hard to see why. Based purely on the shambolic 45 minutes they served up in the second half against Fulham, you would question what Liverpool were doing in Europe's most prestigious competition in the first place.
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