In the end, it was the procession that many had predicted. Liverpool went through the gears and by the final whistle, they were – temporarily at least – back on top of the league.
If you think it was straightforward, however, you should think again. The game – and, potentially, the season – changed for the hapless Slavisa Jokanovic during 14 chaotic seconds in the first half that must have left Fulham’s manager wondering if he is cursed.
Jokanovic – and everybody else inside Anfield – thought Aleksander Mitrovic had given Fulham the lead when he rose powerful to guide a header beyond Alisson Becker. Liverpool, in keeping with their recent form, had been out of sorts and could not have complained about being behind.
Xherdan Shaqiri showed his class with a fine volleyed finish to give Liverpool full control of the game with their second
The Swiss international found himself all alone at the back post as Fulham completely switched off for a moment
His well-timed volley found the bottom corner past Sergio Rico who could only stretch out a right arm in vain
Shaqiri looked the man most likely to make something happen and his recent record in the Premier League is outstanding
Mo Salah broke the deadlock for Liverpool after collecting the ball and beating the offside trap late in the first half
The Egyptian slotted his shot under Sergio Rico to give his side the lead moments after Fulham had a goal ruled out
But as Mitrovic hoisted his arms up to celebrate, assistant referee Adrian Holmes had spotted an offside and hoisted up his flag. While Mitrovic looked over in bewilderment, Alisson fizzed a quick free-kick to Trent Alexander-Arnold and he in turn set Mohamed Salah galloping away.
Salah did what Salah does and rolled a left foot finish beyond Sergio Rico. The passage of play happened so quickly that you found yourself looking at the match officials and the giant scoreboard for reassurance that it was actually real.
Confirmation that Fulham had fallen behind, though, was most evident in the actions of the raging Jokanovic, who erupted in arm waving fury at the fourth official Chris Kavanagh. A manager in his perilous position needs the big calls to go his way, so his anger was understandable.
Holmes’ decision could have gone in either direction. Mitrovic, certainly, appeared onside but a couple of his team-mates seemed marginally offside. Equally, the ball looked to be moving when Alisson launched the decisive counterattack.
MATCH FACTS, LIVE TABLE AND MATCHZONE
Liverpool: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, van Dijk, Robertson, Shaqiri (Milner), Fabinho (Keita), Wijnaldum (Henderson), Salah, Firmino, Mané
Unused subs: Lovren, Sturridge, Moreno, Mignolet
Goals: Salah (41), Shaqiri (53)
Fulham: Rico, Christie, Mawson, Odoi, Chambers, Le Marchand, Schürrle (Vietto), Zambo Anguissa, Cairney (Seri), Sessegnon, Mitrovic
Unused subs: Bettinelli, Kebano, Johansen, Ream, Fosu-Mensah
Referee: Paul Tierney
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Anfield erupted as Salah, Giorgino Wijnaldum (left) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (right) celebrated the opener
Aleksander Mitrovic thought he’d headed the Cottagers in front but it was chalked off for offside by the linesman
The Fulham players show their disbelief at the linesman’s decision after the Serbian was adjudged to have strayed offside
Slavisa Jokanovic (right) remonstrated with the fourth official as Jurgen Klopp pumped his fist after the opener
MARK CLATTENBURG ON OFFSIDE CALL:
A part of the body that can score a goal only needs to be in an offside position and in this case, Aleksandar Mitrovic is marginally off.
His side and shoulder are behind the last defender, so that was the right call from the assistant.
However, when Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson takes the free-kick, the ball is moving and therefore it is illegal.
A retake should have been given by referee Paul Tierney. Instead, play was allowed to carry on and Fulham were punished. After his header, Mitrovic started his celebration too.
In situations when a tight offside has been given and a team is celebrating, usually the referee will delay the match to make sure all players are ready for the retake.
On this occasion, Tierney didn’t and Liverpool capitalised.
You can understand, then, why Jokanovic reacted as he did. Fulham had more than held their own in the opening 45 minutes and should have been in front when Ryan Sessegnon found himself bearing down on The Kop goal with only Alisson to beat.
His strike, following a flick on from Mitrovic, was firm but he dragged it the wrong side of the post. Sessegnon dropped to his knees as the ball thudded into the advertising hoardings, aware of what a glorious moment it could have been.
Had Fulham taken the lead in either of those instances, it would have been interesting to see how Liverpool reacted. The atmosphere inside Anfield was tense, as if the home fans feared the defeat their team had suffered against Red Star Belgrade five days earlier was the precursor for a collapse.
Instead, however, Liverpool took advantage of their reprieve and Klopp will certainly have been heartened at the way Salah streaked clear of a posse of white shirts to finish with aplomb. The poise, the control and the finish are what we have come to expect.
Klopp will also have been pleased with the impact of Xherdan Shaqiri, whose willow-the-wisp runs and close control made him the man most likely to create something for Liverpool. His goal – a guided left-volley from Andrew Robertson’s deep cross in the 54th minute – was wholly deserved.
Once Liverpool had a two-goal advantage, they were never going to be caught and almost toyed with Fulham through the final half hour; the visitors had the wind taken out of their sails and finished up chasing shadows. The winter is going to be long for these players.
Nobody, however, looked more distraught that Jokanovic, who accepted an embrace from Klopp at the final whistle. Whatever words the German said will have brought no solace. Nothing could have done. With his position in the spotlight, all he can do now is hope Fulham’s board keep their nerve.
Mitrovic met the cross with a typically well placed, powerful header that flew into the net but his expression said it all
Salah was thwarted on a couple of occasions as Rico made some fine saves before he was beaten by the flying winger
Virgil van Dijk came to the rescue for Liverpool as Mitrovic and Ryan Sessegnon were positioned dangerously
Sessegnon had a brilliant opportunity to put his side ahead as he broke away one-on-one with Alisson but put it wide
Xherdan Shaqiri showed some nice touches but Liverpool were not at their fluent best in the final third of the pitch
Anfield looked resplendent and the iconic stadium was bathed in sunshine and shadows for most of the game
Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson was forced to wear a cap to keep the glare out of his eyes in the second half
Klopp’s beaming smile at full time told the story of a routine win as Liverpool returned to the top of the Premier League
The Fulham players went over to applaud their hoard of travelling fans after the full time whistle was blown
There is huge pressure on Slavisa Jokanovic with the Cottagers rock bottom of the Premier League going into the break