Fulham left Merseyside dejected and empty-handed on Sunday, despite having scored more than once in a Premier League match at Anfield for the first time.
Leading 3-2 until the 87th minute, Fulham then conceded two stunning goals in the space of 79 seconds as Liverpool consigned them to defeat.
A crestfallen Marco Silva was aware of quite how close his side came to condemning Liverpool to their first home Premier League defeat since October last year against Leeds. “There were many, many positives for them [the players]“, he said. And he was right.
One of them was the performance of his full-backs. The talismanic Joao Palhinha aside, it has been Fulham’s full-backs who have been their best players throughout the season so far.
Chief among them has been left-back Antonee Robinson, whose sumptuous ball into the path of Harry Wilson brought Fulham their first equaliser against Liverpool, and was his third league assist of the season — more than any of his team-mates.
Those three assists have all come in his last three games, Robinson having set up goals for Alex Iwobi in the 3-2 win over Wolves last Monday and for Raul Jimenez when Fulham lost 3-1 at Aston Villa.
That Villa defeat came just before the November international break, during which time Robinson, born in Milton Keynes, popped up with two goals in five days for the United States. Five goal contributions in his last five games for club and country show he is in fine attacking form.
But he has been exceptional defensively too. Robinson made 13 interceptions against Liverpool — the most a player has tallied in a single Premier League match since such statistics were first recorded back in the 2009/10 season. His 38 interceptions in total this season is the most of anyone in the league. The next-best tally, belonging to Brentford’s Ethan Pinnock, is just 23 by comparison.
On the other flank, Kenny Tete marked his long-awaited return from injury with a goal at Anfield. Tete missed eight games while recovering from groin surgery, and was on the bench for the Villa and Wolves matches, before coming back into the team on Sunday and converting from Jimenez’s flick-on to give Fulham their second equaliser just before half-time.
Like Robinson, Tete has shown himself to be well-balanced, capable of mixing offensive creativity with defensive astuteness. Two of Fulham’s three league clean sheets this season have come when Tete has lined up at right-back.
And when he hasn’t, Silva has still been able to count on a versatile player with defensive instincts and an accurate delivery when crossing into the box. Timothy Castagne has looked a shrewd signing since joining from Leicester City for £15million in August on a four-year deal with an option for a further year.
Castagne has played the full 90 minutes in all but two of Fulham’s 13 matches since he joined the club. The only exceptions were September’s 5-1 defeat to Manchester City — his debut — and Sunday’s 4-3 thriller at Anfield, when he was introduced from the bench.
Ten appearances for Belgium in the calendar year of 2023 alone show Castagne’s pedigree, and yet Tete’s return and Robinson’s form may see his role reduced to substitute for this next chunk of the season.
What is clear is that 14th-place Fulham can claim to have an outstanding right-back (Tete), left-back (Robinson) and full-back able to play both sides (Castagne).
The way they combine with the likes of Willian and Alex Iwobi out wide could bring them the goals and the points they need to rise further up the table.