Festive feel-good factor hits Anfield

Posted by Kristian Walsh

"So here he is, Brendan Rodgers, everybody's having fun - here's to the future now, it's only just begun," came the feel-good festive singsong for Liverpool's manager. It was not sung with a shred of seriousness, nor was it belted out by more than a hundred people towards the darker depths of the Kop. But here was Rodgers, surveying a Liverpool side that is still not quite his, dispatch of Fulham with the understated beauty and barbarism of a bloodthirsty ballerina. And here were the supporters of Liverpool also surveying, singing, smiling, in a rare moment of a world without worry.

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Liverpool were enjoying themselves and so too were the fans. It is Christmas, after all. T'is the season for clichés about points making perfect gifts and the generosity of Fulham's defence, but that would not be entirely accurate. Though Liverpool's 4-0 win sees them into the top half and just five points from third, fourth, sixth, Rodgers will know there is more to come from his side; that is a blessing and a curse, his stamp still not quite imprinted on the side, but optimism abounds for what could lie ahead. Though Fulham conceded four goals, they were rarely handed to Liverpool with a big black and white bow tied around them.

True, Martin Skrtel found himself unmarked for the opening goal, but he exhibited his uncanny ability of gravitating towards loose balls in the penalty area, his marksman instincts finally matched by his finishing. True, Mark Schwarzer should have guarded his near post more astutely for Stewart Downing's powerful strike, but Downing had presented himself with such opportunity due to perseverance and the courage to lead the defender a merry dance, something he has not possessed with the heavy, sodden Liverpool shirt upon his shoulders.

Fulham were poor, of course. They played like a side with only one away win all season. Their style away from Craven Cottage - the laconic genius of Dimitar Berbatov acting as the rubber tip to blunt forward play, a chandelier made of jelly - was perfect for a Liverpool side who have struggled with opposition who like to counter attack quickly. The Cottagers' midfield was also non-existent, almost literally, as suspension and injury forced manager Martin Jol into a makeshift line-up.

Liverpool were good, too. Most promisingly, they were not too good. Though they were always in control of the game and passed the ball in a manner to please fans and coaching staff alike, they did not re-enact the Alamo; their good play was mostly discreet, the 11 on the pitch all functioning well, together, in tune.

There were no balls worthy of its own Hollywood star sailing through the Anfield night sky, but instead short, simple passes to feet, movement creating space at every opportunity. There was no Luis Suarez grabbing and grasping the game by its collar, for it was always well within reach. Suarez was one of Liverpool's more quiet players at times, testament to the overall performance from the team.

This was not a 4-0 victory littered with highlights, but for a side that has not won by four goals or more at Anfield since April 2011, it is little issue. On that day, in a 5-0 win against Birmingham, Liverpool were superbly swashbuckling, a relic to former glories as the front six passed, moved and danced around Birmingham, breaking their spirit and breaching their net with ease. This victory against Fulham was not as eye-catching, but far more significant. This was a test of Liverpool's character - a character that has been regarded as fragile by many. Last week's 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa was their first real setback in many months; they had to prove their propensity in overcoming such setbacks. They did that, and did it with four goals. Test passed.

They did it playing the type of football Rodgers has been angling for all season; that, possibly, is more pleasing to him than the four-goal victory. As Jose Enrique received the short corner in the last minute, Fulham were out on their feet, their white shirts acting as giant flags of surrender, waving futilely for the contest to end. Fulham had been stretched and contorted quietly, yet Liverpool still had time for one last goal, Enrique and Suarez still full of energy and zealousness to bring it.

And so the Kop started to sing again. They had witnessed a clinical, clever performance and four goals with no reply; they also saw a magnificent performance from Downing who, much like Enrique, has seemingly benefitted from Rodgers' management of him, even if only for 90 minutes. What a 90 minutes however, for Downing and his team-mates. The next step is to make results and performances like this at Anfield commonplace.

So here's to Rodgers, and Liverpool, for everyone was having fun on Saturday afternoon. Here's to the future also, it has only just begun. It might be quite bright too, if Liverpool can produce performances like that more often.

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