Debrief: No lack of belief on Merseyside as Liverpool and Everton take advantage
Doubting Timothy put firmly in his place by rampant Reds
Tim Sherwood questioned whether Liverpool had what it takes to claim their maiden Premier League title having not triumphed in the top flight since 1990.
The Spurs boss, who lifted the league trophy at Anfield as Blackburn skipper in 1995, opined: “Now they have to believe they've got something that might fall through their grasp and slip away and that's a real bad feeling to have because you don't play with the freedom you'd played with earlier in the season.”
However, the free-flowing Reds needed less than two minutes to prove they are the real deal (with a little help from Younes Kaboul) on their way to a commanding 4-0 victory.
Liverpool have now scored before half-time in their last 22 Premier League games, an all-time record, as Luis Suarez capitalised on Michael Dawson's error to double Liverpool’s advantage before the break.
Raheem Sterling only enhanced his reputation ahead of this summer’s shenanigans in South America, topping the Reds’ chart for attacking-third passes, take-ons and ball recoveries before going off to a standing ovation.
And while boss Brendan Rodgers amusingly continues to play down his side’s chances of ending the campaign as top dogs, the Northern Irishman acknowledged the future looks bright for Reds supporters: "They can see that they had a long winter and it's been a tough period over 20-odd years for Liverpool. They can see something building here, not just for now but for the future. That's as good as I've heard Anfield."
"We're getting our rewards, but we won't get carried away,” added the Anfield supremo. "For us, the mantra's always been to focus on the next game. There's lots of people dreaming about Liverpool winning the title, but for me it's installing in the players that there's a process. The dream is the end result. There's a process in order to get there. We've got 18 points to play for, but you can only take three at a time.”
Everton set sights on gunning down Arsenal
Arsene Wenger admitted after his team’s 2-2 draw with Swansea in midweek that he was wary of Everton creeping up and snatching Champions League qualification from them.
And Wenger might well worry after the Toffees’ fifth consecutive win, coupled with Arsenal dropping points for the third game in a row, set up a humdinger of a game at Goodison Park next Sunday. A first home victory over the Gunners since March 2007 would see Everton close the gap to just one point with a game in hand.
"I think now it's fair to say with the amount of points we have that we've got a realistic chance to fight for [fourth spot],” said manager Roberto Martinez.
"I'm not saying we're going to get there or not but in the same manner we admire Arsenal, we know that they've been getting consistently in the Champions League and that develops a real understanding of what to do in these sort of games. So for us the challenge against Arsenal on Sunday is phenomenal. It's a welcome one but again it reflects what a good season we've had so far."
The Merseysiders had to rely on their second-half potency to ensure maximum points. Before kick-off at Craven Cottage, Everton had scored the highest percentage of second half goals in the Premier League this season.
They had Fulham’s profligacy to thank for not being behind at half-time; the Cottagers out-shot the Toffees 13 to 3 in the first half, yet just 3 of them troubled Tim Howard.
News of Ross Barkley being withdrawn at the interval due to a calf injury sent shivers down the spines of Everton and England supporters alike, but it was his replacement Steven Naismith who ultimately swung the tie in the visitors’ favour; one of several influential substitutes in the second half.
The Scot’s 50th-minute volley found the net via goalkeeper David Stockdale. But he was eventually credited with a goal three minutes from time after two more Toffees subs, Aiden McGeady and Kevin Mirallas, combined to score Everton’s second after one of Fulham’s replacements, Ashkan Dejagah, had blasted the hosts level.
Fulham still fighting, but hopes are fading
Defeat was more than a tad harsh on Fulham and loanee Lewis Holtby in particular, whose performance deserved better than an 11th home league loss for the Londoners.
The German made more attacking-third passes than anyone else on the pitch, created 6 chances for team-mates, made a game-high 8 ball recoveries and won all 12 of his tackles.
While a failure to make the most of your supremacy only to get stung at the opposite end smacks of a side doomed for the drop, Felix Magath’s men can take crumbs of comfort from the fact they recently beat Newcastle at home and face Norwich, Hull and Crystal Palace in their final three Craven Cottage outings.
It’s the hope that kills you, after all.
"I know that we can still make it, because Everton was one of the best teams at the moment. Everton [will go] on to maybe take fourth place in the league, we played better than a relegated team."
Mourinho’s fooling few with ‘title over’ titbit
Declaring your team’s title hopes are over while still being top of the table is a new one on FFT, but unfortunately for Jose Mourinho his latest sound bite isn't fooling too many.
“Now I feel it is impossible to win the title. We depend too much on other results," he lamented after John Terry’s own goal consigned Chelsea to back-to-back away defeats having also lost 1-0 at Aston Villa.
That may be the case, but with a trip to Anfield to come (a venue where fellow rivals Manchester City also have to visit, not to mention Everton) few punters are going to be tearing up their betting slips just yet.
Lest we forget Chelsea’s defeat at Stoke in December, when Mourinho claimed his charges were “in trouble”, was followed by a 14-match unbeaten run with 11 wins including triumphs over Liverpool and Manchester City.
“He talks too much,” quipped former Liverpool adversary and current Napoli coach Rafa Benitez.
Saints trio playing their way into contention
Adam Lallana’s exquisite form has seen talk of whose place he should take in the England squad for the World Cup switch to whose place he should take in the starting XI. And it may not be long before the same conversation translates to his team-mates, who helped form a deadly triumvirate to dispatch Newcastle.
All four of Southampton's goals came via the boots of Lallana, Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert, who between them also bagged a pair of assists, and their familiarity going forward could prove useful to Roy Hodgson.
Counting against Rodriguez, however, could be the former Burnley man’s strike-rate. While the 24-year-old took his Premier League goal tally for the season to 15, the second best Englishman behind Daniel Sturridge (20), he was presented with 11 opportunities against Newcastle and only worked the goalkeeper with 5 of them. International defences won’t be quite as accommodating come the summer.
Fellow England hopeful Luke Shaw was quick to praise his countrymen; the sought-after starlet commenting: “They are superb every week. To have all four of the goals to be from Englishmen is superb. It is great to play for a team like this and especially with the way the gaffer likes his full-backs to play high and wide. We've got a lot of young players in the team that will get older, get more experienced and improve as players.”