Neil Atkinson’s post-match review for The Anfield Wrap after Liverpool 4 Fulham 3 in the 2023-2024 Premier League season…
FOOTBALL miracles. On a weekly basis, season after season.
Look at the state you got this place.
It was pandemonium when Wataru Endo made it three. It was pandemonium squared when Trent Alexander-Arnold made it four. It was one of the all timers and then you see how the players respond, sliding in formation in front of The Kop. Sweat bleeding down.
Jurgen Klopp. Football miracles. On a weekly basis, season after season.
You know what they are thinking, how they are bouncing, how they are matching us, surpassing many of us, as they have been all season. Trent Alexander-Arnold thinks we can win this league, you know. He has thought it for some time now. As has Virgil van Dijk.
Football miracles. Yet again.
There is a thing, a problem with some of them. There is a dark side to football miracles. It is this — it often means outside of the miraculous Liverpool haven’t been very good, have underestimated an opponent, have been outplayed by an opponent.
Today, two out of three ain’t bad. And we get the miracle. Because credit to Fulham, that is exactly what it is. Fulham have frustrated Liverpool to the point that everyone is looking for answers and trying to solve problems.
Virgil Van Dijk at periods tries to play every role on the pitch. He carries the ball from the defensive line through midfield towards Darwin Nunez, blazing instructions from left to right, gesturing behind him to Kostas Tsimikas to cover. Good luck with that, Virgil.
Liverpool are so out of shape at times, we look like the players have some madcap scheme to fox the opposition. Next, let’s try playing while doing handstands.
Instead, it is Virgil trying to play everywhere which leads to their first equaliser. He does the right thing in pushing on but the shape is never right thereafter, Liverpool unable to reorganise.
This mad game had a nervous heart. Caoimhin Kelleher in goal is a second-choice keeper looking shaky. He’s been a man for a big occasion but — crucially — by choice. He wasn’t chosen for this game, he has stepped into Alisson’s big boots out of necessity.
It need not be as bad as this, but it is psychological hell for whole periods. Virgil isn’t just trying to push forward. He is willfully carrying the ball away from our goal.
This is our defensive weirdness all game. Virgil and Joel Matip are strong, but they are fundamentally weakened by knowing they’re not in their usual alignment with the man between the sticks behind them.
Further forward, Liverpool’s midfield also has holes today. Ryan Gravenberch and Dominik Szoboszlai both show willing, but the pouring rain and freezing temperatures seems to make doing the basics well harder than it needs to be. Their passing and decision making is really poor at 1-0 and 2-1 and when Szoboszlai comes off, Gravenberch remains on and his performance has a half-life.
Being fair to everyone, the weather is like a player at Anfield today. But like a crackers will-o-the-wisp making passes slip and turning momentum against players when they thought things were moving in the right direction. Robinson slips three times for Fulham in the first hour, but Liverpool cannot take advantage.
No one suffers the madness of poor luck worse today than Darwin Nunez. He must have at least four opportunities on goal. On one occasion the ball ricochets off the woodwork when he strikes it so pure. The next time he doesn’t strike it at all.
It must be infuriating for him but then it is for us too. Again, this isn’t chaos, it’s brilliance and it’s inconsistency. He plays well, is alive, but today would have been a good day for a scruffy brace.
The goals, instead, are all mad, all outrageous. In a game when Liverpool are below par, their two first half goals are absolute smashers. A Trent wonder freekick soars in and is tipped in by Fulham’s keeper. Alexis Mac Allister channels this vibe and sends one screaming in on the 34th minute, after Liverpool respond dreadfully to the first and let in ex-Red Harry Wilson.
Liverpool are still playing well, but Fulham are clearly working us out when Tete sends us all in at 2-2. Worth saying that not just Tete but also Iwobi make Fulham excellent going forward. They are faster than expected. Determined. Pereira is quality throughout. Raul Jimenez becomes Pele when facing van Dijk. Or at least Graeme Sharp — and I mean that only as a compliment.
Anfield knows we aren’t right here. The atmosphere drops as low as the temperature as we sense that Silva has done a good job here. We see him wave over to Willian and feel what’s coming. Here is a player no stranger to our ground. He knows what he is doing. When he comes on at the 62nd minute, you know he can feel it too. The opportunity.
And it comes. Liverpool have had much possession, but aren’t on top. That structural weakness.
Willian drags the ball over to the left hand side. Liverpool have just defended an attack, but Fulham’s experienced player waits for attention to drop and passes DeCordova Reid his chance. Fulham go ahead. DeCordova Reid is Fulham’s best finisher and exactly the sort of player who scores the winner when Liverpool give up their unbeaten home record.
But Liverpool have other ideas.
It had been coming. It was coming — we knew it. The question then: what comes next? We walk away and kiss our chances goodbye? Another season lost by our own hand? We write it up to ‘transition’ and accept the frustration?
Instead, we have other ideas. Having other ideas is the most important thing a football team can have.
These are the other ideas: we, Liverpool, do not accept it. Not today. Not now. Not in the first week of December.
They do not accept it. Endo Wataru has travelled most of the way round the globe for a city, a belief system, a core way of being, that he understood even despite any cultural or historical difference. That he would fit. Mo Salah’s touch is sumptuous, the finish is divine.
Japan’s captain believed he could make a difference and he did. As much a scouser as anyone. Because they are the rules, that is how it works. I want them all, I want everyone to know this is the most important thing you will ever do in your life. Playing, coaching, coming through the gate for 120 minutes, this is the most important thing you will ever do in your life because Liverpool. Because.
Salah knows this and has no interest in the draw. Salah has a funny game, he’s the one with by far the clearest thinking, but weakest execution in attack. But Salah is a live contender for greatest living Liverpudlian.
Alexander-Arnold comes back a minute later for more. Another contender for greatest living Liverpudlian with the added bonus he grew up by where I play snooker.
And at that moment I was empty of analysis and filled with love and joy and desire and delight. I wanted to see you, in that moment, I found you. In that moment, I fell over. In the smoking chaos our shoulder blades kissed. Beautiful. Exploding.
We go from feeling like we can let one in any minute to believing we are going to score wondergoals for days. Nuts. Madness. What we are in it for. Unadulterated never-say-die madness. Liverpool FC. Scousers each and every one of them. Pulling yourself apart.
Jurgen Klopp going The Kop afterwards. When the smoking chaos had settled.
Look at the state you got this place.