Fulham gave themselves a huge boost in their fight for Premier League survival by winning 1-0 away at Liverpool, amid another flat performance from the champions.
The Cottagers looked the much better side in the first 45 minutes and got their reward just before the break.
Liverpool made seven changes amid their slump and ahead of three games in six days. However, their changes could not inspire the Reds to end their lack of goals at home, let alone wins.
Just as pressing, though, is that the hosts’ chances of Champions League football next season look to come from winning the competition this term.
The trend of the first half emerged in the first three minutes, when Josh Maja got in behind Liverpool’s makeshift centre-backs and fired a volley over the bar.
However, another of Fulham’s front line provided a more consistent threat. Ademola Lookman took full advantage of Liverpool’s change at right-back, beating Neco Williams on several occasions.
In response, Reds winger Mohamed Salah again looked the liveliest player for Jurgen Klopp‘s side, as he has done throughout much of Liverpool’s slump.
However, the Egyptian‘s best opening saw him have a shot saved after getting behind the Fulham defence.
Instead it was Fulham who were rewarded for their solid display, with Mario Lemina’s powerful strike just before half time.
Lemina gets brilliant Fulham reward
Salah collected the ball after Ivan Cavaliero’s free-kick after Andy Robertson’s partial clearance, but Lemina muscled Salah off the ball and drove the ball low into the left corner.
Liverpool full-back Williams had suffered defensively in the first half, but almost instantly made up for it straight after the break.
The Welshman dug out an inch-perfect cross under pressure, allowing Diogo Jota to force a save from Alphonse Areola with a stunning volley.
From the other side, Robertson fired in a tempting cross of his own, but none of his colleagues could meet it.
But as Liverpool pushed up, the space opened up for a Fulham counter-attack. Cavaliero nicked it off James Milner in his own half, but after getting to the opposing box, his tame shot went wide.
Liverpool create chances, but goal still missing
Nevertheless, the hosts’ threat continued to ramp up amid the prospect of another game at Anfield without a goal.
Substitute Sadio Mane’s stretching header hit the post after arcing through the air, before Xherdan Shaqiri‘s curling shot siled wide.
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s introduction at right-back immediately brought a pinpoint cross to Mane, but he got his header all wrong.
Deep into second-half stoppage time, Fulham defender Joachim Ansersen came up with a vital clearance as Mane lurked amid a fizzed Robertson cross.
Fulham, meanwhile, remained in 18th but now sit level on points with Brighton in 17th having played a game more.