What Jurgen Klopp did after Fulham win as Liverpool boss faces unthinkable Mohamed Salah question

Liverpool's German manager Jurgen Klopp celebrates after the English Premier League football match between Fulham and Liverpool at Craven Cottage in London on April 21, 2024. Liverpool won the match 3-0. (Photo by BENJAMIN CREMEL / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. /  (Photo by BENJAMIN CREMEL/AFP via Getty Images)
Jurgen Klopp celebrates after his Liverpool side's vital 3-1 victory at Fulham -Credit:BENJAMIN CREMEL/AFP via Getty Images

The clock may be ticking down on Jurgen Klopp’s reign, but still Liverpool are determined to ensure a glorious farewell for their departing manager.

There was more than a measure of defiance laced in both his trademark post-match triple first-pump towards a delighted away end and the cheers returned in response.

After so much positivity throughout much of a surprisingly successful campaign, the last few weeks have seen doubts seep into the minds of Reds supporters and, in some respects, the legs of Klopp’s players.

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Having started the month two points clear before stumbles against Manchester United and Crystal Palace sandwiched a Europa League shocker against Atalanta, there has been a suggestion that Liverpool, having far exceeded expectations, were running out of gas. Their race was run.

Here at Craven Cottage, though, the Reds found their second wind. And with it came renewed hope that, with five games remaining, the Premier League title can still be snaffled.

Of course, it is out of Liverpool’s hands, with leaders Arsenal having a much superior goal difference and champions Manchester City, now down in third, possessing a game in hand. Klopp’s men are reliant on both teams slipping up.

All the Reds can do is win their own games. And after the tentative step forward of a narrow victory in Atalanta, Liverpool gradually produced a performance that justified the selection gamble taken by Klopp.

While rotation was expected with the game coming less than 72 hours after the trip to Italy, there were nevertheless eyebrows raised at the sight of Alexis Mac Allister, Ibrahima Konate, Dominik Szoboszlai and Mohamed Salah dropping to the bench.

Yes, Mac Allister was in dire need of a breather. But it could be argued the indifferent form of the others merited being left out. And it meant that in each of Liverpool’s last 51 games in all competitions, they have named a starting line-up that had never started together before, the longest such sequence in more than 30 years.

Ultimately, however, they delivered, not least a completely overhauled midfield. Wataru Endo, back as the number six, was a driving force behind an impressive second-half showing that was much more like the Liverpool who had strangled the life out of opponents with high, intense pressing and quick movement of the ball.

Ryan Gravenberch was fitful first half but ended up breaking his Premier League goalscoring duck with a superb strike to restore Liverpool’s advantage after the break, and then played a part in the third. And Harvey Elliott shrugged off the jeers of his former home fans with another tidy showing and an assist.

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But this was also an afternoon where two established players gave a clear reminder of what Liverpool had been missing during their extended injury absences.

Trent-Alexander Arnold built on his encouraging display at Atalanta with another fine display, the highlight of which was the stunning free-kick that put Liverpool ahead. And while, similar to Gravenberch, Diogo Jota had largely underwhelmed before the break, it was his bustling run that earned the free-kick from with Alexander-Arnold scored before netting the third, his first goal since mid-February.

That strike was created by a fine through ball from Cody Gakpo who, playing on the left flank with Luis Diaz switched to the right, was arguably Liverpool’s best player, again sharp in possession and taking advantage of his physical prowess.

So ends questions over the Reds’ inability to score in open play that had been sparked by recent performances, although another debate has now been prompted – do Darwin Nunez and Salah walk straight back into the team?

Rotation and the need for fresh legs this week – a run of four consecutive away games continues with the small matter of the Goodison derby against Everton on Wednesday – means they will get their minutes. But Klopp will have some tough decisions to make in the final weeks of his tenure.

Having addressed their recent propensity for slow starts in midweek, Liverpool began confidently here but gradually ceded the initiative to a Fulham side who, having sat off for the opening quarter, started to probe the visitors.

The pattern actually only changed once Liverpool had gone ahead on 32 minutes. Elliott had already struck one low free-kick into the wall when, after Jota was felled a similar distance out, Alexander-Arnold whipped a sumptuous effort into the top corner. Having been denied a similar goal in the reverse fixture in December by Bernd Leno’s head, there was no denying the vice-captain this time.

Only Jamie Redknapp and Steven Gerrard have now scored more direct free-kicks in the Premier League than Alexander-Arnold, although this was his first in almost four years in any competition.

Fulham responded with Alisson Becker saving smartly from Rodrigo Muniz at close range. And the hosts took advantage of a period of indecisive Liverpool defending in first-half injury time when an unmarked Timothy Castagne sidefooted home after the ball dropped invitingly inside the area.

But Liverpool took a collective step up in level after the break. On 53 minutes, after Elliott intercepted an ambitious crossfield pass from Alex Iwobi, he fed Gravenberch to curl home brilliantly. And 19 minutes later, a move down the left involving Dutch trio Virgil van Dijk, Gravenberch and Gakpo ended with Jota breaking the offside trap and slotting under Leno.

Job done. The Klopp era may be reaching an end, but it isn’t over just yet. And nor is Liverpool’s championship challenge.