Fulham 1-1 Liverpool (Agg: 2-3)
Carabao Cup Semi-Final, Second Leg
Craven Cottage, 24 January 2024
Goals: Diop 76′; Diaz 11′
Caoimhin Kelleher – 7 (out of 10)
A really fine tip away when diving out to the edge of his six-yard box at 0-0, with DeCordova Reid closing in at the far post, then another good save down to his right to do what Leno could not.
Was beaten aerially by one leaping header but escaped when Pereira hit the post. His kicking was fine if not exemplary and this was another assured showing overall despite being beaten by a close-range finish – he’s now surely set for a second cup final start.
Conor Bradley – 7
A tough test first half in fairness, between the guile of Willian and the speed on the overlap of Robinson, but he dealt largely well with it, other than allowing the odd cross to come in.
The equaliser did come from his side however, when Wilson beat him for skill to deliver the telling cross.
Jarell Quansah – 7
Claims the assist for our opening goal with his crossfield pass. Not his most faultless showing of the season but given it was also his biggest occasion, that’s not really surprising or anything to blame him for.
Good tracking at times, covered well enough when he could and kept it simple on the ball second half.
Virgil van Dijk – 8
Imperious in the first 45 minutes, which is a nice change-up from the first half of the first leg.
Didn’t do anything wrong second half either though it was he who Diop got across at the near post to flick in Fulham‘s equaliser – Van Dijk was soon back to ordering the gang about and winning aerial balls for the final minutes though to see us over the line.
Joe Gomez – 9
If he’s not careful he’ll be England’s best defender again, albeit as a left-back now apparently. Once more was excellent in both halves of the pitch, defensively resilient and adventurous going forward.
Had one shot blocked over the bar and the search for the back of the net goes on, as do the screeches for him to shoot whenever he’s on the ball within 40 yards of goal.
Alexis Mac Allister – 8
A cut above with his control, instant passing and ability to hold off danger in the middle of the park. Looked as though he was nearly cut in two by one tackle, which maybe wasn’t as bad as it first appeared, and Mac Allister often looked our best route to a second goal with his passing through the lines.
Played just over an hour and we certainly lost a bit of our control when he went off.
Harvey Elliott – 7
Booed throughout for having the temerity to leave this frankly nothing club in pursuit of success and a better career.
Would have been nice if he had answered those with a goal, but spurned two decent chances – the latter straight at the keeper when well-placed.
Otherwise a generally neat, hard-working, fine performance… but no more than that. Lacked the incision or speed to truly unlock the hosts.
Ryan Gravenberch – 7
Offered himself to take possession constantly and was very useful in turning defensive possession into build-up play, surging into space and carrying the ball over 10 and 20 yards with some regularity.
Drilled one shot wide and was full of running until he went off, a better showing than some of his recently.
Luis Diaz – 9 – Man of the match
In the words of a non-Reds-supporting compatriot, Diaz “just makes sh*t happen, doesn’t he?” Took on his man mid-air and scored bottom corner with a double-deflected shot to open the scoring and give us breathing space.
A non-stop runner all game, constantly offering openings either by pulling wide into space or racing behind the full-back. Showed up well centrally and won aerials when he could, too.
Cody Gakpo – 5
Such a nothing performance, again. Occasionally involved in link-up play but he’s weak when trying to hold up the ball – he lost 12 of the 14 ground duels he contested – rarely runs in behind and has shown very little capacity to beat players.
Needs far, far more. Shouldn’t be anywhere near the XI in any games of importance at this point.
Darwin Nunez – 7
Almost assisted our second with a headed through-ball, just angled away from Gakpo, then hit the post himself – but flagged offside. A fairly typically instinctive and non-stop performance, lots of running – including offside – but his first half showing lacked refinement and judgement.
That side of things improved somewhat after the restart, with one counter-attack seeing Nunez free Elliott for a chance before he bent a shot of his own on target, tipped wide.
Diogo Jota (on for Nunez, 66′) – 7 – Fought hard against Diop but not much went his way in a tough physical battle.
Curtis Jones (on for Mac Allister, 66′) – 6 – Neat on the ball but weaker in the challenge that we’d have liked in that role.
Ibrahima Konate (on for Gakpo, 83′) – n/a – Added to the defence for a late back five.
Bobby Clark (on for Gravenberch, 83′) – n/a – Clark-Jones-Elliott was an extremely young midfield to see out a semi-final with but he did well.
Subs not used: Alisson, Robertson, Beck, McConnell, Nyoni
Jurgen Klopp – 9
Not much for Jurgen to do in terms of lineup, with just a few rotations no doubt to ensure freshness, manage those who have recently had knocks and ensure as many players as possible can keep going and going, though given recent form it was still a surprise to see all of Ibrahima Konate, Curtis Jones and Diogo Jota removed from the spine.
But the boss has consummate trust in his squad and in those coming in, and the overall performance was one of control, if not sensational dominance.
The early goal after a typically bright Fulham start no doubt helped in that regard, as they then needed two just for extra time, and Klopp’s subs past the hour mark simply served to continue that approach of making sure there were no errors, no undue fatigue, and getting the job done.
Even so, some of that control departed after Alexis left the pitch and maybe Jurgen was just slightly nervous for the final 20 minutes, moving to a back three for the closing stages.
Job done is the key though, and that’s what we’ve done in this semi-final – now go and get us that cup!