Neil Atkinson’s post-match review for The Anfield Wrap after Fulham 1 (2) Liverpool 1 (3) in the 2023-2024 League Cup semi-final second leg…


WE decide. We call the shots. We do things our way. We decide.

There is a lot to be said for swaggering into a place and making it your own.

Letting everyone know you’ll take some beating from minute one. Into these.

A statement of intent matters so much on nights like these.

And thus did Daniel Sturridge’s scarf strike the first blow against Fulham.

Imagine tell of it around their dressing room. They fancy this, The Reds. Imagine warming up being able to see it. I’d not be able to think of much else. It’s a masterpiece just as Daniel is and always will be. The man is a Liverpudlian legend in every sense worth being one, and being the best dressed man on a London Wednesday is just one more arrow in his quiver. One of the greatest living.

It’d be a perfectly reasonable explanation for Fulham’s slow start. Another would be that Liverpool had decided. We decide.

A switch has been flicked in Liverpool. Liverpool were excellent for much of this campaign dealing with slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but something happened in Advent, when your tree went up, when you went to the loft. Liverpool decided that they decide and since then there has been no looking back.

Tonight, Liverpool decide that the League Cup final is not Fulham’s business and — while there is an element of both fortune and earliness in Liverpool’s early goal — it was scored on Liverpool’s terms, in their command.

This is the essential pattern of the game, Fulham are in it in the same way Tom is in the cartoon with Jerry. You need two to tango, but only one was sashaying to the final.

If this sounds arrogant or like a depiction of arrogance then that would be quite wrong. Liverpool have this through years of work, verging on a decade of graft. Virgil van Dijk is what he is in a game like this because he has been in so many of them.

Conor Bradley and Jarell Quansah are what they are for a game like this because of 10 years of work at Liverpool, Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool, since 2015. Almost every step has been honing them for this. Tonight neither were perfect, but both were marvellous. Regardless, perfect is overrated, it suggests an opposition prepared to roll over.

Fulham weren’t that. They could play in patches and found themselves a goal. What they could never do was build up, find the screw, turn it. They couldn’t make Liverpool even get near submission.

This is the telling thing about this sort of second leg. The crowd was willing, the footballers determined, but for each of them the game was happening over there? Where? There?

At Luis Diaz’s feet, in Darwin Nunez’s orbit, in Ryan Gravenberch’s turn, in Harvey Elliott’s touch, in Daniel Sturridge’s scarf, or Joe Gomez’s stride.

The game was ineffable for Fulham and all this despite the scoreboard remaining kind, remaining forgiving.

Because Liverpool decide. This is where Liverpool currently are — playing games not as though they are contests, but as though Liverpool are playing a musical instrument and they are virtuosos.

Liverpool weakened in lieu of Nunez and this is something worth remembering with Chelsea and Arsenal on the horizon. He remains the most present footballer Liverpool have and occupies opposition defenders in the plural continually. He isn’t chaos, he is instead what makes them look chaotic.

That said Tosin does brilliantly through the game, playing it in the red, living on the edge. He isn’t finding it easy, but is acquitting himself magnificently.

Indeed — that’s Fulham. They looked like they had blown a gasket around the hour mark, but they find a big push and make Liverpool need to cover up late on by going to a back five after getting an equaliser.

They acquit themselves magnificently, but it is never going to quite be enough because Liverpool are decisive, Liverpool have decided.

It will not be forever thus, we know enough to know that, but we know enough to know that with this group and that manager these phases really can last.

Liverpool are on their way to Wembley, but more importantly Liverpool are doing it on their terms and in their way. They’ll control what they need to, play when they can, they’ll be decisive and they’ll be marvellously dressed while doing it.

We decide. What a moment of realisation that is.

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