Liverpool stormed to an emphatic 5-2 victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage yesterday, as goals from Luis Suarez and Dirk Kuyt, paired with Maxi's second hat-trick in three games, extended the Reds' recent run of stunning form and sent Kenny Dalglish's side into 5th place in the Premier League.
The silky and fluid pass and move style of football exhibited by the visitors was thrilling and effective in equal measure, as the Reds played some excellent, entertaining football while remaining in control throughout the whole 90 minutes.
Liverpool remained unchanged from the starting eleven that eased past Newcastle United last time out, with Jamie Carragher remarkably recording his 666th appearance, taking him outright in second place in the club's all time appearance makers list. Meanwhile, Pepe Reina, who was a virtual spectator for large periods, made his 150th consecutive appearance for the Merseysiders.
After scarcely more than 30 seconds has elapsed the in-form Maxi Rodriguez gave the away side a dream start, as the Argentine winger found the net after Schwarzer failed to clear Suarez's deflected cross. Only seven minutes later Maxi doubled both our lead and his personal tally after Lucas, who was also involved in the build up to our first goal, had sent Johnson free down the right. The Londoner's deep cross was met by Maxi, who coolly side footed home on the volley from close range.
Unbelievably, the Reds scored a third on 16 minutes to confirm their total dominance
of the opening period. Australian keeper Mark Schwarzer was culpable again for the Cottagers though as he allowed Kuyt's seemingly harmless shot to squirm in at the near post.
It characterised the early exchanges fittingly, as Fulham mistakes cost them dearly while everything seemed to be going in Liverpool's favour, as has been the case throughout the King's five month reign. Fortunately, the expansive brand of football employed by the away side continued to permeate their performance, with Suarez at the heart of all our attacking play as he ripped Fulham's defence to shreds
The Uruguayan breezed beyond Hangeland and attempted an audacious effort from an acute angle mid-way through the first half, before starting a typically free flowing move that culminated in Lucas lashing a strike over from 25 yards on the half hour mark.
After that Suarez tested Schwarzer with a effort from range after swapping passes with Johnson and Kuyt, while Dempsey saw successive shots cleared off the line and fly wide in the hosts' only two chances ahead of the interval. However, the Cottagers improved after the break, enjoying a spell of pressure and grabbing a goal back shortly before the hour mark as Dembele's well taken effort sneaked past Reina and into the bottom left corner.
On 63 minutes Liverpool were forced to scramble to safety when Hangeland tried to direct a corner goalwards and at that point a second Fulham goal could have changed the dynamics of the match dramatically, swinging the game in favour of Mark Hughes' side and handing them the momentum heading into the closing stages.
Thankfully, Maxi put to bed any fears of a Fulham revival though when he smashed a fantastic, ferocious 25-yard drive beyond Schwarzer's despairing dive and into the top left hand corner. It was a superb strike from the 30-year old, who has been one of many players to experience a refreshing return to form under the guidance of the highly acclaimed Dalglish.
With the outcome now beyond doubt, Suarez polished off both his and the team's performance perfectly as he rounded Schwarzer intelligently before slotting home after Shelvey's incisive pass had sent him bearing down on goal. The nous needed to convert that chance was characteristic of Suarez's game and demonstrated the footballing intelligence that will see him in good stead in the future.
There was still time for Steve Sidwell to score a beautiful consolation with a powerful drive from the edge of the box with four minutes remaining, however both the three points and the accolades were heading North with Dalglish's simply tremendous troops.
Despite their mid table position Fulham possess a formidable home record, with Spurs and the two Manchester clubs the only teams to win at Craven Cottage during this campaign. In the light of that fact this result appears even more impressive, as it shows our ability to match the top teams and signifies the crucial return of style and substance on the road.
This weekend's all important fixture between Liverpool and Spurs at Anfield will surely decide the destiny of both sides and, with Tottenham floundering and the Reds resurgent, we must enter into that clash as favourites to claim a momentous lead in the race for fifth place.