Fulham 1 – 1 (2-3) Liverpool EFL Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg Postmortem 

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Fulham 1 – 1 (2-3) Liverpool EFL Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg Postmortem

This was a game that sat amongst an undesirable schedule of matches, thereby requiring fair rotation (from the visiting manager) and string decisions due to this week of knock-out cup football. Progression to Wembley and the EFL Cup final on the 25th of February was all that mattered for Jürgen Klopp and his travelling army of players and supporters, which is why a near full-strength eleven was selected. The winning objective was achieved, though the Reds most certainly made it difficult to get over the line.

Liverpool’s Starting Lineup and Match Details

Below is how the team lined up, with match details following.

The Starting Eleven: GK – Caoimhin Kelleher, RB – Conor Bradley, RCB – Jarell Quansah, LCB – Virgil van Dijk (c), LB – Joe Gomez, RCM – Harvey Elliott, CDM – Alexis Mac Allister, LCM – Ryan Gravenberch, RF – Cody Gakpo, CF – Darwin Núñez, LF – Luis Díaz.

Subs: Diogo Jota, Curtis Jones, Ibrahima Konaté, Bobby Clark.

Goals: Fulham 0 – 1 Liverpool (1-3 agg) Luis Díaz (Jarell Quansah) 11 mins; Fulham 1 – 1 Liverpool (2-3 agg) Issa Diop (Harry Wilson) 77 mins.

Key Match Statistics

Important Stats from the Game

Possession: Fulham 48% – 52% Liverpool

Total Shots: Fulham 8 – 13 Liverpool

Corner Kicks: Fulham 2 – 2 Liverpool

Goalkeeper Saves: Fulham 4 – 4 Liverpool

In-Depth Match Analysis

First Half: Liverpool’s Controlled Play and Opening Goal

The opening minutes of this game saw the home side vibrant and determined, as the need to win was drilled into the losing side’s strategy. Marco Silva would have been delighted with that opening ten minutes, that was until Jarell Quansah delivered a wonderful cross-field ball (after one had just failed), which allowed his Colombian winger to compete with his marker for possession. After a brilliant touch and direct movement towards the goal, the Colombian forward struck through the scrambling blockers, causing a deflection on its way into the bottom corner. The build-up was superb, though the goal was more courtesy of some weak goalkeeping from Bernd Leno.

The second leg soon settled into a rather controlled state for the Reds, as Fulham looked deflated by the new 1-3 aggregate scoreline. Throughout that first period, Joe Gomez and Conor Bradley controlled their defensive flanks, whereas Virgil and Quansah dominated the back line. Alexis Mac Allister was once again the controlling hub of midfield, as both Harvey Elliott and Ryan Gravenberch offered athletic and eager support around him. The attack was steady as Darwin looked confident and composed as the central striker, even though Cody Gakpo struggled to adapt to the new right-sided berth.

The half ended without much more incident, as despite one good interception by Caoimhin Kelleher (from a cross come shot), the Liverpool goal remained largely untested.

Second Half: Fulham’s Revival and Liverpool’s Strategic Substitutions

On resumption of the second half, no changes were made by either side, however, the energy of the home side increased immediately. As the urgency of the occasion and knockout mentality entered the minds of the Fulham players, you could see a more determined mindset in Marco Silva’s team. The end-to-end battle for possession evened out and the tired legs of the visiting team started to become more apparent. After such a successful season of tactical substitutions, eventually, Jürgen Klopp made his first changes of the evening. After completing 90+ minutes against Bournemouth at the weekend, both Alexis Mac Allister and Darwin Núñez departed the field. The Uruguayan striker had had two very good chances around about the hour mark, one which was well saved, whilst the other drifted just wide of the top corner. Though the changes were preordained and perhaps necessary (given the schedule ahead), the introduction of Diogo Jota and Curtis Jones did little to inject much-needed control into the contest. As the minutes ticked by, so did the possibility of the Cottages getting a goal, which eventually presented itself in the 77th minute. Harry Wilson managed to create the singular mistake of Conor Bradley’s night, which allowed the former Liverpool man to drive into the box and cross for the awaiting Issa Diop. Another defection (this time off Jarell Quansah’s leg) managed to create the opportunity for Fulham’s giant defender to angle the ball beyond the red’s Irish keeper.

With that, the evening’s scores were level and the west London outfit was very much in the ascendancy. As the pressure mounted and the chance of extra time became real, finally the visiting manager made the two substitutions which ended the contest. Bobby Clark and the gigantic presence of Ibrahima Konaté entered the fray, as the tired and ineffective efforts of Cody Gakpo and Ryan Gravenberch saw them withdrawn. To his credit, the Dutch midfielder has played well, yet his stamina is still very much in question, The final ten minutes were well manoeuvred as the huge rearguard block of Liverpool became impenetrable. Bobby Clark was busy and industrious, as Joe Gomez patrolled the pitch with confidence.

My award for man of the match went to the red’s solitary goal scorer, as his maverick nature and ability to penetrate and create avenues to attack, were as impressive as they were important.

Post-Match Reflections

Final Thoughts on Liverpool’s Performance and Path to Wembley

This was a game where the result was always going to outweigh the performance. This post-Christmas period saw the Reds enjoy a mini break, however, after that short period, the schedule is and will continue to be relentless. Fulham knew they had to win tonight; therefore, the early goal and late-game management were exactly what was needed to squash dreams. Momentum through performance is often impossible in knockout situations, with so much riding on a singular result.

Liverpool v2.0 is way ahead of schedule and a trip to Wembley awaits.

Pre-game prediction;   Fulham 1 – 3 Liverpool

Steven Smith

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