What a tough match. Liverpool pulled out a win in their first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final against Fulham, after playing most of the match behind when the visitors scored in the 19th minute. Even when things looked dire and that an equalizer wasn’t coming, true to form Liverpool pulled up their big boy pants and got to work, thanks in no small part to some smart substitutes in the second half and the hard work of those subs.
Fulham really forced Liverpool out of their comfort zones throughout that first half, and the Reds paid for it when defense short circuited and allowed a goal in the 19th minute. Things were always going to be interesting anyway, with the absent players hanging over the squad. Conor Bradley came in for the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez continued his shift at left back to replace both Kostas Tsimikas and Andy Robertson, and both did a helluva job.
The most impactful changes, though, came in the second half when Cody Gakpo came on in the midfield to replace the struggling Harvey Elliott and Darwin Nunez replaced Ryan Gravenberch. Assisting monsters, Gakpo and Nunez both were able to re-shape Liverpool and led to both Curtis Jones’s equalizer and Gakpo’s winner. Nunez in particular had a couple shots miss the mark, but was one of the hardest working players on the pitch when he came on and really helped to reinspire the listing Reds.
Thought the usage is often polarizing, the lack of VAR in this match didn’t do Liverpool any favors. There was yet another missed penalty moment, and a couple of fouls that should’ve garnered a second look that referee David Coote let slide. These definitely led to Fulham appearing to have more control leading up to the second half.
How The Players/Manager Reacted
Cody Gakpo: “It’s the mentality in the group, in the club, in the city,”
“Everybody is like this: mentality, just keep going no matter what happens. We showed it again today. If you’ve got that mentality, a lot of beautiful things can happen.”
Gakpo has now scored in every League Cup match he’s played in, and is the first to score in four consecutive League Cup matches since Vladimir Smicer in 2000-01.
Jurgen Klopp: “It’s not over yet. Fulham will not be overly happy tonight but know they are still in. Hopefully we will be better from the start [in the second leg].
“It’s a few days between now and then. With the whole story of the game, I’m obviously happy with it.
“In the situation we are in with a lot of players not in, in the first half we were not brilliant.
“I’m so happy with the crowd and how they take it [his missed chances] and Darwin and how he takes it. You cannot be more unlucky. He plays outstandingly, I have to say it.
“The impact they [Nunez and Gakpo off the bench] had was brilliant.”
What Happens Next
Liverpool go into the second leg of the semi-final with a 2-1 lead, and with away goals no longer having more weight than home goals, they’re sitting pretty comfortably before they go to Craven Cottage on January 24th. There is a small break between now and then, with Liverpool’s next league match coming on January 21st when they visit Bournemouth.