Liverpool are still not likely to sneak into the top four, but they look determined to at least finish the season on a run of strong results. While tonight’s 1-0 victory over Fulham wasn’t the most convincing of wins, it was a win nonetheless, and it made five matches in a row where the Reds took all three points.
The first-half performance was both excellent and frustrating. Klopp’s side were in full control and orchestrating some scintillating attacking play, but the final ball really wasn’t there. Nearly everyone who was regularly getting into the final third seemed to misplay a final pass or shot at least once. Luckily they did get the (admittedly soft) penalty kick that allowed them to get on the scoreboard.
The second half was much dicier. It started with more exciting attacking play that was let down by the final ball, but it slowly turned into the Reds looking like they were okay with just making sure Fulham didn’t score, and then devolved into defending with a bit of desperation at the end.
So, lets take a look at some of the winners and losers from what ended up being a bit of a strange performance overall.
The Trent Alexander-Arnold Midfield Experiment
Trent continues to look more and more like he belongs in midfield with each passing game. It’s hard to overstate how impressive he was tonight, especially for the first 60 minutes or so. He was doing everything you want a midfielder to do.
The Scouser was making tackles and interceptions, popping up with some dangerous shots from distance, and pinging the ball around like it was nothing (as per usual). He also displayed some excellent close control and looked completely calm under pressure in those tight spaces that midfielders typically need to operate in. He might truly have a future in the midfield.
One of the biggest reasons the Reds are getting away with shifting their right-back to the center is Konaté. Ibou was immense once again at the back. He is covering a ton of ground on the right because of the space Trent’s central positioning is leaving, and he is doing it extremely well. He was calm, confident, and strong tonight, and he made a couple of superb tackles to prevent chances in some very dangerous areas. Liverpool would not have five wins on the trot if not for the play of Ibou.
Mo Salah’s Penalty Kicks
Mohamed Salah converted a penalty kick for the second straight match after missing two in a row, and he seems to have his PK mojo back. While the one he scored against Tottenham on Sunday was well taken, you could see the recent misses were weighing on his mind as he stepped up to the spot. The Egypitian definitely held back just a bit as he fired it under the bar.
That was not the case tonight. Salah went up the middle, right under the bar, like he did against Spurs, but he absolutely leathered this one and it was obvious he had no doubts he’d score it.
After a couple days of talking almost non-stop about incompetent officiating and the way Jürgen Klopp reacted to it on Sunday, Stuart Atwell and his crew were quite refreshing tonight. There were no egregious errors, and they got the vast majority of the close calls correct. There were no dustups between the teams or with the officiating crew as Atwell kept the game under control and refrained from being a pompous ass. Hopefully Paul Tierney was taking notes.
Comfortably Closing Out A Win
While it was certainly better than allowing Tottenham to equalize in stoppage time after leading 3-0 after 15 minutes, the Reds still did not look comfortable in the closing stages as they tried to see out a 1-0 victory tonight.
The players up front made questionable decisions and silly turnovers while failing to convert a number of promising counter-attacks as Fulham pushed more numbers forward in the dying minutes. The midfield were too easily bypassed and the defense too easily thrown into disaray, and this very easily could’ve ended in a draw if not for Alisson Becker.
You take the wins any way you can get them, but this team is really playing with fire in the way it tries to hold onto a late lead.
What Happens Next
Top four will still take a significant meltdown from Manchester United or Newcastle United, but this five match winning streak has the Reds primed to take the fight for fifth down to the wire. Liverpool are now five points clear of Spurs and Aston Villa, so it really looks like Brighton are the biggest competition for the spot in Europe next season.
The Seagulls currently sit seven points behind the Reds, but they have three games in hand and still control their own destiny for fifth place. Unfortunately for them, Brighton have a tough final stretch as they’ll have to face five of the seven teams above them in the table in their remaining seven fixtures. Given that brutal schedule, Liverpool have to be the favorites for the Europa League spot right now.