Liverpool new manager can unlock Jurgen Klopp signing as midfielder silences critics

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 21: Ryan Gravenberch of Liverpool celebrates with Harvey Elliott of Liverpool after scoring his side's second goal during the Premier League match between Fulham FC and Liverpool FC at Craven Cottage on April 21, 2024 in London, England.(Photo by Gaspafotos/MB Media/Getty Images)
Ryan Gravenberch celebrates Harvey Elliott after putting Liverpool back in front against Fulham -Credit:Gaspafotos/MB Media/Getty Images

Klopp’s gambles pay off

Eyebrows were perhaps raised when the Liverpool team sheet dropped on Sunday as Jurgen Klopp made five changes to the side that beat Atalanta and a number of ‘big hitters’ dropped out.

With a Premier League title challenge at stakes, supporters could be forgiven for feeling perplexed. It was a ‘weaker’ side but there was a method in the madness. All the players withheld were either fatigued or out of form, having just returned from injury or been overplayed in the interim. Too often in recent weeks had such names put in below-par showings.

Klopp’s faith in his rotated options was rewarded as Liverpool ran out 3-1 winners. Post-match, he would insist his selection was no gamble as his starting players showed why.

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In midfield, Ryan Gravenberch netted his first Premier League goal with a well-taken strike from the edge of the box, set up by Harvey Elliott. Alongside Wataru Endo, it was a much-improved midfield performance.

Much has been made of Gravenberch’s underwhelming start to his Reds career, with him even being linked with a move away in midweek. Yet he is still only 21, adapting to a new league after two years where his game time has been limited. Inconsistency was inevitable and to be expected.

But here he got better as the match went on, and grew in confidence after his strike as he repeatedly powered through midfield and helped create the third goal. Signed for his potential, his talent is obvious and will, all being well, be unlocked by Klopp’s successor.

Meanwhile, it was the most encouraging performance from Liverpool’s front three for a number of weeks. Luis Diaz, in an unfamiliar right-wing role, regularly tormented Antonee Robinson, after the United States international had been lauded for his showings against the Reds earlier in the season.

On the other flank, Cody Gakpo clearly enjoyed being granted his favoured position. Regularly cutting inside to strike at goal or link up with his team-mates, he was unlucky not to score. But he did at least register an assist, threading through to Diogo Jota to wrap up the victory.

The Portuguese was perhaps the quietest of three, understandably so having only just returned after long-term injury. Yet he still registered his 15th goal of the season. Up to second courtesy of this win, how much better would it be for Liverpool if their most prolific forward hasn’t missed so much football this season.

Elliott silences Cottage chants

Elliott was just 16 when he decided to leave Fulham behind for his boyhood Liverpool. The Reds were European champions at the time. While the Cottagers made him the English top-flight’s youngest ever player, they would also suffer relegation to the Championship before the teenager’s exit.

With the two clubs unable to agree on a compensation package for the free agent, Liverpool were eventually ordered to pay an initial £1.5m, plus £2.8m in add-ons. Whether that full fee has yet been activated or not over the past five years, it’s safe to say the Reds snapped up a bargain.

Over 100 career appearances for Liverpool before his 21st birthday, and countless winner’s medals, Elliott will have never once regretted his decision. But that won’t stop Fulham supporters from venting frustration at him whenever he crosses paths with his former club.

The midfielder’s every touch was loudly booed and jeered after he was handed a deserved start at his former home. No doubt eager to silence them, Elliott demonstrated such eagerness by taking one first-half free-kick. After the break he’d rush one strike on goal too, dragging horribly wide first-time when well-placed on edge of the box.

Perhaps trying too hard, it was a rather different outcome moments later when he showed composure in midfield. Gifted possession by former Everton star Alex Iwobi, he threaded through a pin-point pass to Gravenberch to re-establish Liverpool’s lead. Next time he got on the ball, Fulham’s jeers were rather more subdued.

Elliott now has 11 goal contributions for the season, but this was only his second from the start in the Premier League. Rewarded with only his third 90-minute Premier League appearance of the season, he is already a proven impact substitute but is now rising to the challenge set by Klopp to have the same influence on games from the start.

‘Hold my beer, Harvey!’

Liverpool might boast at least two of the best free-kick takers in the Premier League but it had been nearly four years since the Reds last scored directly from such a set-piece.

When Klopp’s side were seeing out their Premier League title-winning year in the summer of 2020, Trent-Alexander Arnold stepped up to net against both Crystal Palace and Chelsea. But his strike behind-closed-doors the night Liverpool got their hands on the league trophy had been the last time the Reds scored in such a way.

Ending the drought against Fulham, perhaps the England international has helped keep Liverpool’s hopes of sending Klopp away with a second Premier League title alive?

On the half-hour mark at Craven Cottage, the Reds first won a set-piece in a shooting position after Joao Palhinha brought down Gakpo. In ‘Trent territory’, as we informally call this in the business.

On the right-hand side of the box, 25 yards from goal, the 25-year-old stood over it but so too did Elliott. With every one of the former Fulham youngster’s touches booed throughout, he was no doubt keen to silence his former home.

Alas, attempting a cheeky effort rolled under the wall, it was blocked by Sasa Lukic. Cue the jeers. ‘Harvey Elliott, what a w***er!” taunted the home support. In truth, it was a surprise Alexander-Arnold had granted him the strike in the first place.

Seconds later Liverpool were gifted another such opportunity, this time on the left-hand side after Palhinha tripped Jota. He was booked for his troubles after illegally stopping his compatriot in his tracks.

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Again, Alexander-Arnold and Elliott stood over it, but this time there was no taking it off the full-back. ‘Hold my beer, Harvey!’

With the top left-hand corner gaping, Alexander-Arnold curled home a stunning free-kick to open the scoring and end Liverpool’s long-running set-piece drought.

Some home supporters behind the press box, observing the monitors for a better view, saw it coming, calling what would happen before the defender even started his run-up. Sometimes you know exactly what an elite player is going to do, but what makes them world class is the fact that you have no chance of stopping them regardless.

His fifth such goal for the club, only Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Tommy Smith have scored more, while he would be joint-third on such a list with six, alongside his fellow Scouse defender, had it not been for Fulham goalkeeper Bernd Leno being awarded an own goal back in December.

‘The Scouser in our team!’ the travelling Kopite loudly chanted at Craven Cottage after his moment of magic.

Liverpool’s chief creative outlet, Alexander-Arnold has been missed. Having won the penalty in Bergamo, he has introduced himself back into Premier League action in the best possible way.

Back on track

When Yossi Benayoun scored a last-minute winner at Craven Cottage in April 2009, ‘we’re going to win the league!’ roared the travelling Kop.

When Gerrard scored a 91st-minute penalty in a 3-2 victory in February 2014, the same supporters dared to dream as their side closed the gap at the top of the table.

When James Milner netted a late penalty in a 2-1 win away at Fulham in March 2019 to send Liverpool back to the top of the table, having played a game more, supporters were left keeping everything crossed for a Manchester City slip-up during the final two months of the campaign.

Alas, on each occasion the Reds fell agonisingly short. And here, after their latest business end win at Fulham there were no wild celebrations post-match despite overtaking City in second. Following a draw at Manchester United and shock defeat at home to Crystal Palace, Liverpool know their fate is not in their hands.

But they have kept their title hopes alive at least, courtesy of this 3-1 win at Craven Cottage. Cup final one of six won, all they can do now is keep winning, take the race to the last day and see what happens.

A step in the right direction after their mini-blip, the Reds are back on track. As Klopp’s Liverpool reign nears its end, his side might have been down after the past fortnight, but they are certainly not out.