Record-time English League Cup winners and betting favourites Liverpool are on the verge of reaching a record-extending 14th showpiece event.
Jurgen Klopp’s overachieving team fought back from a 1-0 half-time deficit to beat Fulham in the first leg of their semi-final tie a fortnight ago.
Goals from Curtis Jones and Cody Gakpo put the Reds in the driver’s seat ahead of the return leg at Craven Cottage.
Even without talismanic forward Mohamed Salah, Liverpool put Bournemouth to the sword in the follow-up.
Four unanswered second-half goals fired the Merseyside powerhouse to a clear-cut 4-0 triumph at the Vitality Stadium, extending their lead at the Premier League summit to five points.
Despite doing half of the work, Liverpool can’t afford to rest on their laurels, especially with the Cottagers heavily motivated.
Adding to this sentiment, Salah’s return to action may require additional time after his agent, Ramy Abbas, admitted the Egyptian’s hamstring injury could sideline him for almost a month.
“Mohamed’s injury is more serious than first thought and he will be out for 21-28 days, and not two games,” Abbas said, as quoted by the Daily Mirror.
“His best chance at participating in the current AFCON is by undergoing intensive rehabilitation in the UK and rejoining the team as soon as he is fit.”
Fulham threw away an early lead in the first leg, but their bid to reach the League Cup final for the first time in the club’s history is still alive, albeit barely.
Indeed, the Cottagers’ frustrating result at Anfield maintained their dreadful record against Liverpool in this competition, as they’ve failed to win any of their ten previous League Cup encounters (D2, L8).
On top of that, they’ve lost their last three matches against the Reds via a single-goal margin despite taking the lead in two, one of which was a goal-glutted 4-3 defeat in early December.
However, it’s not over yet for Silva’s side, especially considering they’ve emerged victorious in five of their last six competitive outings at Craven Cottage (L1), including a 2-1 triumph against Arsenal on New Year’s Eve.
Liverpool’s thumping win in Boscombe cemented their status as a force to be reckoned with, marking a 36th unbeaten domestic fixture in their last 37 (W26, D10).
Virtually unplayable in 2024, Klopp’s high-flyers have won all four competitive games since the turn of the calendar year, putting Newcastle United, Norwich City, Arsenal and Fulham to the sword.
The Reds don’t need a win in West London to progress into their first League Cup final since lifting a record-ninth title in 2021/22, but it’s hard to put it past them to that anyway.
Since Klopp’s understrength line-up slipped to a 2-1 Europa League loss to Royale Union Saint-Gilloise, Liverpool have won three consecutive away games by 2+ goals ‘to nil.’
In addition to long-term absentee Adama Traore, Fulham will be without Calvin Bassey, Alex Iwobi and Fode Ballo-Toure.
Captain Tom Cairney should return to the starting XI after partnering Joao Palhinha in the midfield during a 1-0 loss to Chelsea last weekend.
As for Liverpool, Salah is not the only high-profile absentee.
Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are still in the treatment room, while Dominik Szoboszlai could return to the fold.
But even if he does make the matchday squad, the Hungarian midfielder should start on the bench.
Fulham potential starting line-up:
(4-2-3-1): Bernd Leno; Kenny Tete, Tosin Aderabioyo, Issa Diop, Antonee Robinson; Joao Palhinha, Tom Cairney; Willian, Harry Wilson, Andreas Pereira; Raul Jimenez.
Liverpool potential starting line-up:
(4-3-3): Alisson; Joe Gomez, Virgil van Dijk, Ibrahima Konate, Conor Bradley; Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott, Alexis Mac Allister; Cody Gakpo, Diogo Jota, Luis Diaz.