Liverpool secured their spot in a record-extending 14th EFL Cup final thanks to their 3-2 aggregate win over Fulham.
The Reds travelled to their semi-final second leg against Fulham with a 2-1 lead having come from behind at Anfield a few weeks ago. Favourites to win the EFL Cup even before the first leg, it was hard to imagine Liverpool not rocking up at Wembley next month.
Jurgen Klopp had made four changes to his starting XI from the 4-0 win over Bournemouth at the weekend, with cup goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher coming in as well as Jarell Quansah, Cody Gakpo and Ryan Gravenberch. Kelleher was one of just two players to start all six EFL Cup games for Liverpool this season, alongside Harvey Elliott, with Curtis Jones dropping to the bench for the first time.
Fulham started brightly, taking the game to their visitors, knowing they had a chase on their hands. But that was all undone by a moment to forget for Bernd Leno.
Liverpool attacked well to get the ball to Luis Diaz, and the Colombian’s shot was well placed, but it should have been stopped by Leno who allowed it to go through him at his near post. The goal came not too long after Antonee Robinson put in a dangerous cross that Caoimhin Kelleher had got a crucial hand on, to divert away from Bobby Decordova-Reid who was arriving at the far post.
Set up by Jarell Quansah, it was the 20-year-old’s third assist of the EFL Cup this season, with no player providing more in the competition.
Of his performance and reaching the final, Quansah told Sky Sports: “It is special, unbelievable. Can’t ask for much more really.
“We had to dig in tonight. It is my first season here and happy to get to a final. It is all about rhythm, you have to keep playing. I felt a little rusty as I’ve not played recently.
“Doing this with Conor [Bradley] is special for me because we have played together for 10 years.”
Virgil van Dijk added: “I am proud of these guys. It is only the beginning for them. To go into a final with this performance is very good.”
The wind was well and truly knocked out of Fulham’s sails, allowing Liverpool to assert even more control on the tie. It was a control they held despite not looking at their best, passing up a few opportunities to extend their lead on the night.
Liverpool have reached the EFL Cup final for a record 14th time, at least four more times than any other side.
And they’re now just one game away from being the first team to lift the trophy 10 times.🏆 pic.twitter.com/oSxHwsaRwk
— Squawka (@Squawka) January 24, 2024
In the second half, Liverpool maintained that control for a large portion but as urgency kicked in for Fulham, the Cottagers grew and looked dangerous. It paid off with 15 minutes to go as Issa Diop drew the hosts level. It was good work from Harry Wilson on the right to beat Conor Bradley with a chop, driving towards the box.
Wilson’s ball into the box was dangerous, filled with power, and despite the slight nick off a defender was met well by Diop who’s deft touch left Kelleher rooted to the spot.
Unfortunately for Fulham, Liverpool managed to hold on, despite the hosts upping the intensity, and their hopes of a first EFL Cup final were ended. Instead, neutrals will be treated to the latest instalment of Liverpool vs Chelsea in the EFL Cup. Klopp has won a lot as a manager, including at Liverpool. But could leading this Liverpool team to glory at Wembley next month top it all? Some think it may be up there.
“It’s probably one of his most proud moments in his Liverpool management career,” Steve Sidwell said on Sky Sports’ coverage of the game.
“Because previously he’s had strong squads, strong teams to deal with, whereas now he’s had to tinker with a lot of players. He’s had to bring youngsters in, show a lot of faith, they’ve repaid him as well.
“You can see the smile on his face, this is a moment where he’s probably cherishing it as well.”