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  • Julian Taylor at Anfield

Cottagers denied by Jones and Gakpo as Liverpool seize Carabao Cup semi-final advantage




Carabao Cup semi-final, first leg


Liverpool 2 Fulham 1


Julian Taylor at Anfield


For around an hour or so, it was all going so well for Fulham.


Yet the Cottagers found themselves leaving Merseyside with defeat for the second time in a couple of months at Anfield. There is no shame in this, considering Liverpool are leading the Premier League, fighting on four fronts and almost irresistible at home.


Willian had put Marco Silva's men into a great position with a goal in the first half which was causing no little alarm for the Reds in this tense Carabao Cup semi-final, first leg.


However, responses in a quick spell by Curtis Jones and Cody Gakpo sent Liverpool into the second leg at Craven Cottage with the advantage, albeit slender.


There is some consolation for Fulham chief Silva in that the tie remains open - his team did well to just about withstand late pressure to add to the two-goal tally. However, the reality is the Cottagers looked visibly shaken in the final twenty minutes; their earlier composure having evaporated amid the Anfield cauldron. It will take quite the effort from to turn the contest around in west London if Fulham are to have any chance of capturing the Carabao Cup.


Some of the pre-match build up centred on Fulham's 145 year quest to win a major trophy; an almost inexplicable - and unwanted - feature of the club's history. And while there remains a second leg to be played at Craven Cottage, hope is alive.


Silva's side had been surveying the scene of Merseyside of late with some impact. The Cottagers gave Liverpool a scare in December before going down 4-3 in agonising fashion on Premier League duty, while seeing off Everton in the previous round of the cup at Goodison Park, prevailing on penalties amid a tense night. Here they were, again. One of the Cottagers' biggest games, since facing Atletico Madrid in the famous run to the Europa League final in 2010.


Intent


Fulham had, therefore, served notice of their intent, which was remarked upon by Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp in the match programme. "Fulham’s quality is not an unknown quantity," he noted. "They have shown on so many occasions that they have the tools and the know-how to give many problems." And there is still the second leg to go, so Klopp knows a lot remains in this semi-final.


The west Londoners arrived on Merseyside without Calvin Bassey and Alex Iwobi, both on international duty at the AFCON with Nigeria. It was, naturally, a much stronger line up than the one - with eight changes - which eked past Rotherham United at the weekend in the FA Cup. All eyes from Craven Cottage and Silva were on tonight's big test instead. The vast experience of Raul Jimenez and Joao Palhinha were potentially key to extracting any glory within this most intense of environments, with former Liverpool player Harry Wilson on the bench.


Liverpool, meanwhile, welcomed back Virgil Van Dijk - but were missing the talismanic Mo Salah, away on international action, and man-in-vogue Trent Alexander-Arnold, who sustained a knee injury during the Reds' last outing, an impressive 2-0 win at Arsenal in the FA Cup. Others, such as Andy Robertson were absent too, giving Klopp a headache. Time for the Cottagers to seize a sliver of opportunity?


Liverpool were full of intent in the opening stages, where a similar tone was set in the previous round at Anfield, when West Ham found themselves systematically dismantled. Still, an angled shot past the post by Diogo Jota in the 16th minute was all the Reds managed to offer.


Any concerns were roundly dispelled when Fulham grabbed an opportunity - and how it was taken with aplomb by Willian after 19 minutes.


Lapse


In what was essentially the Cottagers' first proper foray, a rare lapse inside the box by Van Dijk allowed Andreas Pereira to slip in and assist the Brazilian, who composed himself with a couple of neat touches before squeezing the ball under home keeper Caoimhin Kelleher.


Unsurprisingly, Fulham - content to maintain a counter-attacking strategy - were thereafter obliged to resist large swathes of pressure from Klopp's stunned players. Jones was a particular menace at times for the visitors who remained a threat on the break throughout the first half. Kelleher was forced to save from a rangy effort by Pereira as Liverpool appeared oddly laboured, lacking speed and incision.


Predictably, there was more purpose from the Reds immediately after the break, with Ryan Gravenberch shooting just a yard past Bernd Leno's post, amplifying the noise from the Kop.


Antonee Robinson was perhaps fortunate to escape being punished for a handball inside his own penalty area - but any Liverpool frustration was soon eclisped with a 67th minute leveller.


With Fulham failing to clear the mounting danger, Jones let fly with a 25 yard left footed drive - a slight deflection off Tosin was enough to send the ball spinning into the top of Leno's net.


Invigorated


Suitably invigorated, Liverpool quickly added a second goal two minutes later, a vindication of Klopp's substitutions moments before.


With Fulham beginning to lose a little concentration, Darwin Nunez managed to get into a great position down the left - and his cross was met by Gakpo who moved across the Cottagers' defenders to steer the ball in at the near post, to much relief from the home support.


This was the classic case of goals changing the mood of a team and a tie, with Liverpool much more like their usual confident selves. In 79 minutes, Leno had to tip over a great header by Nunez as Fulham felt further intensity.


They did that much, at least on what could have been a much more damaging night.


Cottagers: Leno, Tosin, Diop, Robinson, Castagne, Reed (Lukic 82), Palhinha, Willian (Cairney 72), Jimenez, Decordova-Reid, Pereira (Wilson 72)




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