Luis Díaz hid best thing about Liverpool's player of the match vs Fulham in title race boost

Trent Alexander-Arnold of Liverpool scoring the opening goal during the Premier League match between Fulham FC and Liverpool FC at Craven Cottage on April 21, 2024 in London, England.
Luis Díaz obscured one of the best things about Liverpool's win over Fulham. -Credit:Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Luis Díaz kept his place for Liverpool against Fulham, but Mohamed Salah did not. It was a huge call from Jürgen Klopp.

It quickly transpired that Díaz was playing as Salah's direct replacement, with Cody Gakpo allowed to continue in the wide left role where he has looked most comfortable lately. With none of the attack really firing recently, Klopp could have dropped just about anybody, but leaving out Liverpool's talisman to play another goal-shy option out of position raised some eyebrows.

Of course, Klopp could justifiably play something of a get-out card, chalking it up to rotation rather than anything else. There's no escaping the fact that Liverpool is embarking on a ridiculous week even by Premier League standards, with a triple-header of away fixtures crammed into seven days (and that on the back of the Atalanta trip).

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Even so, it looked like Díaz might make the selection a major talking point when he spurned a golden chance just minutes into the contest. Connecting with a Trent Alexander-Arnold cross, he could only guide his header narrowly wide of the foot of the post.

Admittedly, Salah is not exactly known for his aerial prowess either. And he missed a glorious opportunity of his own against Atalanta, skewing a chip that could have turned the whole tie. But another profligate display from the forwards would inevitably have brought increased scrutiny down upon Klopp.

Fortunately, Alexander-Arnold was on hand to unlock the gates with a moment of sheer magic. Gary Neville couldn't help himself from prattling on about the Fulham wall, but even a line-up of Peter Crouch and some mates from the NBA might have struggled with this one, which arced perfectly up and down before flying into the top corner.

This was a significant moment. While it did not end Liverpool's barren open-play streak — Ryan Gravenberch would do that later — it was a reminder to the team that there is huge goal-scoring quality within the side. Confidence was restored, enough even to overcome the setback of a subsequent Fulham equalizer.

Come the end of the season, we could view this Alexander-Arnold free-kick as a turning point. But the player Neville named Player of the Match (despite the apparent faults in the wall) may well have bigger contributions to come.

After all, he can't score incredible free kicks every week. But he can lay on high quality chances; that is his bread and butter. Had Díaz scored his early chance, that may well have been the narrative, with Alexander-Arnold unstoppering the misfiring attack through his elite creativity.

And while it may not feel like it recently, droughts in front of goal are temporary. To a greater or lesser extent, the Liverpool forwards will revert to something approaching the mean, and that's when the Reds will cash in on their chance creation.

Alexander-Arnold makes that side of the game 10 times better. We saw flashes of it in the early stages against Atalanta, and we saw it again versus Fulham, even if it was overshadowed by the free kick.

This Liverpool recovery is still in its early stages, and confidence is fragile. Notably, of the forwards, only Diogo Jota was able to get back among the goals. But for the last five games of the Klopp era, if there is to be a fairytale ending, it seems a pretty safe bet that Alexander-Arnold could be the one teeing it up.