From Ian McCulloch
After a comparatively slow start to the season, when they lost two out of their first three games, Liverpool got their game together superbly, hitting the top of the table in November. They held onto first place for a month, before a visit from Fulham heralded a slump in form that saw them win only one of their next nine games.
Putting that disastrous run behind them, the Reds had won their previous four games going into last weekend's fixtures, and regained top spot briefly from Manchester United. Their Championship hopes were not helped by Saturday's home draw with Everton, a fixture where form normally goes out of the window.
Liverpool's achievement in winning three cups last season has only served to whet the Anfield fans' appetite for Championship success. Living up to their supporters' expectations is one of the Reds biggest challenges.
This season's campaign has not been helped by manager Gerard Houllier having to undergo major heart surgery, something that has kept him sidelined for several months. The reserved but quietly ruthless Frenchman was carving out a side in his own mould, conservative for the main part but showing great flair when necessary.
Instrumental in Liverpool's return to form was Emile Heskey, who, struggling to hit a barn door with the proverbial banjo, suddenly went mad and started scoring freely. With Robbie Fowler departing for Leeds, Nicolas Anelka has been brought in on loan and he scored his first Premiership goal on Saturday. Heskey and Anelka vie with Michael Owen for the strikers' places, Jari Litmanen hardly getting a look-in.
The Reds play containing football and hit fast and hard on the break. Their defence has been the cornerstone of their success, and to the likes of Stephane Henchoz, Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher, Liverpool have added Fulham target John Arne Riise and more recently, Portugal international Abel Xavier, brought in from neighbours Everton.
Goalkeeper Sander Westerveld fell badly out of favour early in the season and was quickly replaced by Pole Jerzy Dudek and Chris Kirkland from Coventry.
Steven Gerrard sustained a groin injury in the Champions League draw with Galatasaray and is likely to be out for some weeks.
Goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek also has a groin strain that kept him out of the Everton match, allowing Chris Kirkland to make his Premiership debut.
Patrick Berger and Nick Barmby have both been out injured, but Barmby may be in contention for the Fulham game. Defender Markus Babbel has been out since August with a virus problem.
Jamie Carragher is suspended and is likely to be replaced by up and coming star Stephen Wright.
From The Past
When Liverpool visited the Cottage in September 1993, to contest the first leg of a second round Coca Cola Cup-tie, the Premiership side were on the back of a bad run, having lost four out of their last four games. Fulham though were in the bottom six of the Second Division, and despite losing as expected, gave their visitors a much tougher game than the 1-3 scoreline suggests.
In front of a crowd of nearly 14,000, the largest for some time, and on a pitch flooded by a thunderstorm, Liverpool manager Graeme Souness made several changes to his regular line-up, leaving out Mark Walters, Steve McManaman, Ronnie Whelan and Steve Nicol and giving a debut to young striker Robbie Fowler who played up front alongside Ian Rush.
Rush opened the scoring when goalkeeper Jim Stannard missed an awkwardly dropping cross, and the Reds doubled their lead before half time when Martin Pike conceded an own goal under pressure from Nigel Clough.
Fulham came back strongly in the second half, and when substitute Sean Farrell lobbed Bruce Grobbelaar to reduce the deficit, it produced a roar from the crowd not heard at the Cottage for many a year. Fulham threatened for an equaliser but the game was killed off when Fowler scored the first of his many Liverpool goals.
The second leg was a formality with Liverpool winning 5-0, all of the goals coming from Robbie Fowler. If Grobbelaar had not pulled off a superb double save early on from Eckhardt and Onwere, and the referee had not awarded an outrageous free-kick for a non-existent Terry Angus back-pass from which Liverpool scored their second, things might have been different.
The scoreline was a big improvement from the previous 10-0 result, and was bettered even further when Kevin Keegan's side went down to a battling 3-1 loss. Last season's game was closer still, the Reds needing extra-time to sew up the match after a goalless ninety minutes. The next game in this Cup sequence promises to be extremely interesting.
Not Many People Know That
Everton were the first team to play at Anfield, but a dispute saw them leave for Goodison Park in 1892. The Anfield landlord, forced to form a new team, initially tried to keep the name Everton, but was eventually obliged to come up with a new name - Liverpool.