It was hardly a vintage performance for Liverpool, but with a 2-1 advantage heading in due to a first leg win in their League Cup semi-final against Fulham they didn’t need vintage, they just needed good enough and that’s exactly what a 1-1 draw in leg two away at Craven Cottage was for them.
Now we take a look at some winners and losers on the night and turn our attentions to what comes next...
Alexis Mac Allister
Another game, another chance for Mac Allister to show off how good he is in the six. Though unlike over the weekend in Liverpool’s big win at Bournemouth, the clearest highlight of Mac Allister’s qualities came when he left the pitch on 67 minutes.
Until then, Liverpool only had a one-goal lead but hadn’t felt especially threatened and the question seemed to be when the second would arrive to put the game away. Replacing Mac Allister at the six with Curtis Jones—who has repeatedly shone in the eight this season—only resulted in a Fulham surge that first brought an equaliser and then in the game’s dying minutes seemed fated to bring them a winner in the game that would have levelled the aggregate scoreline.
In the end the Reds survived, but with Wataru Endo away at the Asian Cup it was a pretty clear argument that there’s really only one player in the squad at the moment capable of delivering in the six for Jürgen Klopp.
Conor Bradley and Joe Gomez
The duo who were pressed into service due to a slew of injuries at fullback continued to impress in what might be their final game together this season at least, with Andy Robertson back in the squad—but not called upon given his lack of match fitness and with the game getting tense—and Trent Alexander-Arnold expected ready on the weekend.
It was another solid outing for Bradley on the right, good both in defence and eager to get down the pitch to whip in a cross, and his game continues to offer tantalizing hints of the returning Robertson. Meanwhile Gomez again drifted centrally from the left, which was a surprise the first time it happened but makes sense both as a mirror image of the tactical approach when Trent Alexander-Arnold is fit and also as a way to answer Gomez’ two biggest weaknesses as a left back—namely that he’s right footed and that he has never seemed entirely comfortable pushing high into the opposition end.
Referee Simon Hooper
It feels as though more often than not the officiating is the story when Liverpool play, and plenty were braced for that to be the case yet again when Hooper—who oversaw the officiating disasterclass at Tottenham earlier in the season—was appointed. Thankfully, there was very little to talk about regarding refereeing on this occasion.
The official probably should have handed out yellow for a high boot on Luis Diaz early but at least he called a foul, and later on he resisted an effort by Raúl Jiménez to buy a penalty for Fulham with a dive. There were a few quibbles otherwise—the biggest of being when two Fulham players piled on Mac Allister only for the call to go against Mac Allister—but nothing especially egregious by English officiating standards, and that has to count as a win for all involved.
Fans Hoping for Fluid Football
Let’s not put too fine a point on it, that game wasn’t great. It didn’t have to be great, and it was enough to see the Reds through to Wembley which is all that really matters, but taken in isolation it was a less than inspiring outing collectively with Liverpool rarely clicking into high gear as a team. Good enough is good enough and on to the next one, but it wouldn’t have been hard to find better things to do than watching the 90 minutes on offer today.
Dissecting the Narrative
Fans of Doing Things The Hard Way FC, at least, will have enjoyed Liverpool very much Doing Things The Hard Way here. And having Done Things The Hard Way to get to the final they’ll get to face Chelsea, whose matches against Liverpool in recent years—regardless form or occasion or table position—have tended to produce some of the most difficult slog imaginable. So. We look forward to a nil-nil draw that goes 37 penalty rounds deep and Liverpool Doing Things The Hardest Way while hopefully ending up with something shiny to show for it.
What Happens Next
While this was a game to get Liverpool to a final, that final is a month away and before then there’s an FA Cup tie against Norwich on the weekend before a potentially season-defining league run. Chelsea at Anfield and Arsenal at The Emirates are the headliners, with the way Manchester City can chew through results even a draw in one of those games could see the Reds level on points with the current chasers.
Anything less than four points from those two games and, well, most peoples’ money would be on City taking top spot and never looking back. Because that’s just how it is when you’re facing off against the sportswashing front for a human rights abusing petrostate. So. Should be fun!