Liverpool 4-3 Fulham
Premier League (14, Anfield
December 3, 2023
Goals: Leno OG 20′, Mac Allister 38′, Endo 86′, Alexander-Arnold 88′; Wilson 24′, Tete 45+4′, DeCordova Reid 80′
Kelleher waves one chance away
For a backup goalkeeper, coming into the side for a run at short notice is of course a double-edged sword.
There’s the fact they are desperate for matches and a chance to prove their worth, but also the fact they’re naturally rusty and can’t have form or rhythm behind them.
Therein lies the importance of concentration, consistency and everything else that goes with an elite mentality.
The need for non-stop performance doesn’t drop just because a player coming into the team isn’t a regular and Liverpool need Caoimhin Kelleher to push Alisson, to show he’s a consideration to keep and to at least ask the question of if he should remain first choice in other competitions.
After playing fairly well in a low-risk midweek match, this will go down as a chance missed by the Irishman to push any claims on more regular action.
Perhaps the first goal – scored near post but at close range – was not one he could do terribly much about.
But the second certainly was, and so too was the ruled-out would-be-third, a good save in reflex terms but parried poorly only up inside the line of the goalposts and within his six-yard box. Tim Ream netted that rebound but was thankfully offside.
While he had less to do second half in terms of shot-stopping, one run out of his box to attempt a kicked clearance was less than impressive, spinning up and only a few yards away, fortunately to a teammate in red.
Kelleher had no chance on the third goal and did make one decent save away to his left just beforehand.
A dismal state of defence
Kelleher might be the last line of defence, but he’s not the only one responsible for it – and those ahead of him were below-par today in that first half.
It was slow and sloppy too often, both full-backs being caught out a number of times with Fulham‘s quick diagonal transitions and even those in the centre who have been so good of late guilty of a lax approach in possession and with how quickly they reacted to second balls.
It’s a noticeable quirk that both our first-half scorers were then almost straight away guilty of errors of judgement which directly led to their goals being cancelled out.
Alexander-Arnold failed to intercept a low cross, Alexis Mac Allister vacated his spot at the near post from a corner.
And even further forward, the same can be said about a lack of aggressive pressing, a lack of tracking runners and winning one-on-one battles often enough.
Ryan Gravenberch has a lot to do to become an elite No.8 in this kind of system, while more than once in recent games, Dominik Szoboszlai has been far too casual in stopping players dribbling at speed towards the penalty box.
Coming on as sub, Ibrahima Konate looked well off the pace and our terrible afternoon at the back continued as about four players contributed to failing to prevent a third.
Liverpool with a case of the Darwins
There’s been an ongoing debate over Darwin Nunez: is he great or erratic, on the verge of exploding or never going to be elite?
Games like this only add fuel to the latter side of each argument. A quiet first half saw him make plenty of running but not really achieve too much with the ball at his feet, while second half he actively missed two massive chances.
The first was a side-footed cannon, crashed onto the crossbar on the run – a good effort after great movement, but really, from the distance he had to hit the target.
Fine margins between celebration and frustration, but it too often seems to be the latter at crucial moments.
It was the same but worse soon after as Mohamed Salah nodded him through on goal, but this time Nunez barely made contact and scuffed a one-on-one effort off-target.
But Nunez alone didn’t miss very presentable chances: Mohamed Salah blazed off-target and had another ruled out for offside while several efforts off set-pieces should have done much more to test Bernd Leno.
And so, the team as a whole resorted to the other type of Darwin Nunez shots: the improbable, the spectacular, the low-percentage chances which somehow come off in incredible fashion.
Alexander-Arnold’s spectacular free-kick, in off the bar and the keeper. Mac Allister’s inch-perfect, swerving long-ranger. Wataru Endo‘s precise, controlled equaliser.
And Trent again, full throttle and with everything behind it to turn a silly draw into a limbs-everywhere victory.
Did we all catch a case of the Darwins?
The early double change from Jurgen Klopp brought a rearrangement in midfield, which fans could take as either a surprise or a glimpse of the boss thinking of midweek and beyond.
Both summer signings Szoboszlai and Mac Allister were the ones to make way, with Gravenberch perhaps fortunate to stay on after a very low-key showing, and Trent moving more permanently into a central double-pivot.
In positive terms, it’s of course useful to see alternatives in action, proof that the boss has options and can make formation changes as matches dictate, and there’s an attacking argument to suggest both options were useful on the day.
Mac Allister’s magnificent half-volley was his first for the Reds since joining and he was at times impressive with progressive passing and taking up good positions during spells of dominance.
Later, with Trent freed up to station himself in the middle for good, he was happy to rove forward at will, add more threat from the second line and it coincided with our most dominant section of the match in terms of possession.
On the other hand, midfield is meant to provide balance and protection, and it simply wasn’t there in either half for the Reds.
This was evidenced by a single counter-attack for the visitors leading to their third goal – shortly after Gravenberch and Trent had both been right side, with only Joe Gomez central.
Unsurprisingly, Wataru Endo was the response to bring a bit of structure – it’s doubtful Klopp expected him to have the impact he did higher up, but boy was it welcome.
One down, two to go
The 100 per cent home record remains intact, the Reds are up to second. It looked very different for a few minutes, but the resilience and the quality of the team eventually managed to shine through.
And just as well: in a run of three quickfire Premier League games, nine points are the requirement and the expectation – we cannot drop silly points and remain in the running for top, or top two, into the new year.
This was a crazy, turnaround, topsy-turvy match and one Trent will remember in particular – maybe a few coaches too, considering his impact the higher he plays.
But straight away it’s vital that recovery begins and improvements are made, as they same type of performance might not be one we get away with next time.