Liverpool are through to the Carabao Cup final after a 1-1 draw with Fulham at Craven Cottage was enough to give them a 3-2 aggregate win.
Holding a one-goal advantage from the first leg at Anfield, Liverpool took the game further away from Fulham early on through Luis Diaz’s deflected strike and looked set for a comfortable evening until Issa Diop ensured a tense finale late in the game.
But there were no further scares for Liverpool who held on for a deserved aggregate victory. Jurgen Klopp’s team will now contest the Carabao Cup trophy at Wembley against Chelsea next month in what will be a repeat of the 2022 final between the sides.
Fulham:Leno (5), Castagne (5), Tosin (7), Diop (7), Robinson (7), Palhinha (6), Cairney (7), De-Cordova Reid (6), Pereira (5), Willian (7), Jimenez (5).
Subs:Wilson (7), Tete (n/a), Reed (n/a), Muniz (n/a).
Liverpool: Kelleher (6), Bradley (7), Quansah (7), Van Dijk (7), Gomez (6), Mac Allister (6), Gravenberch (6), Elliott (6), Diaz (8), Nunez (6), Gakpo (6).
Subs: Jones (6), Jota (6), Konate (n/a), Clark (n/a).
Player of the match: Luis Diaz.
How Liverpool reached the final
Fulham did all they could to create an atmosphere, black and white flags waving from all four sides of Craven Cottage long before kick-off as they targeted a first domestic cup final since 1975. But it was Liverpool who started stronger, extending their lead.
Diaz won an aerial challenge with Timothy Castagne on the left before firing off a shot that caught a slight deflection but still should have been stopped by Bernd Leno in the Fulham goal. Instead, the German could only push the ball into the corner of the net.
Marco Silva’s side struggled to settle and there were more chances for Liverpool before they did. Leno punched the ball into Cody Gakpo, the ball looping over the bar. Diaz then had the ball in the net after Darwin Nunez had hit the post. The offside flag went up each time.
Fulham improved later in the half, Raul Jimenez forcing a save from Caoimhin Kelleher before going down in the box only to see the penalty appeals waved away. Willian was busy and Antonee Robinson caused some problems for Conor Bradley on the overlap.
- Fulham made two changes from the defeat to Chelsea with Bobby De-Cordova Reid and Timothy Castagne coming in for Harry Wilson and Kenny Tete.
- Jurgen Klopp made four changes to the Liverpool team that beat Bournemouth. In came Caoimhin Kelleher, Jarell Quansah, Ryan Gravenberch and Cody Gakpo.
The reward almost came early in the second half but Andreas Pereira could not seize the chance, striking the post with the goal gaping after Kelleher had failed to claim the initial cross. Liverpool almost scored on the subsequent break with the game opening up.
Nunez twice went close to ending any hope of a Fulham comeback and Liverpool had cause to regret those misses when Diop turned the ball home from close range after superb work by Harry Wilson on the left. The mood changed, the home crowd roaring them on.
Wilson almost beat Kelleher from distance and Liverpool, who had controlled the second half impressively, were suddenly on the back foot as the Cottage sensed a night to remember. ‘Stand up if you still believe,’ reverberated around the stadium.
It was not enough. Liverpool held on without further incident to send the away support home happy. Fulham hopes dashed. Liverpool’s hopes of an unlikely quadruple alive and well as their form shows no sign of slumping even without Mohamed Salah.
Klopp: ‘Young ones incredible’
“It is fantastic. We had the experience before, we know what to expect. Again Chelsea wow what a story that is,” Klopp told Sky Sports.
“You should never take for granted if you are part of the team who can qualify for trophies.
“This was the full cup experience. Open game, second half they started a bit wilder. We don’t score. They got the equaliser. But the boys did really well and I am really happy.
“The only thing that counts in the end is that we are through. The very young ones have been incredible, so happy to see their reaction in the dressing room.
“They are all exceptional and they all worked extremely hard. This was not the night to shine, this was the night to qualify for a final. You heard from Marco Silva how much reaching a final would mean for Fulham, we had to prove and we did.
“Everything great about the Carabao Cup final. Around that we have to be focused on all the other competitions as well and that is what we will do.
“It is so perfect. Wembley is a special place and I am really happy for everyone involved they can have that experience.”
Van Dijk proud of Liverpool players
“We wanted to make sure we did the right things, Fulham played at home with a good atmosphere,” Virgil van Dijk told Sky Sports afterwards.
“We had to be ready to fight, we started the game very well and scored a good goal. We found a way and go to Wembley.
“I am proud of these guys. It is only the beginning for them. To go into a final with this performance is very good.”
Quansah: ‘This is special for me’
Van Dijk’s centre-back partner Jarell Quansah added: “It is special, unbelievable. Can’t ask for much more really. We had to dig in tonight. It is my first season here and happy to get to a final.
“It is all about rhythm, you have to keep playing. I felt a little rusty as I have not played recently.
“Doing this with Conor [Bradley] is special for me because we have played together for 10 years.”
Silva: ‘The players gave everything’
“It was a difficult match like we expected really,” said Silva.
“They were leading 2-1 so of course we need to score to go through to play the final. Performance-wise, overall, the game wasn’t our best performance but I prefer to start with the desire and the attitude from the players.”
“They gave everything from the first to the last minute. To keep the semi-final open to the last minute shows the attitude and the commitment.”
It was an emotional occasion for Fulham and that showed. “Probably too emotional, more nervous than Liverpool,” added Silva. “We couldn’t keep possession like we normally do. We lost many balls when building and on the counter-attack.
“They score and it makes it a more difficult scenario for us. The second half, they start better than us but we start to grow into the game and we need a goal to lift the crowd. After we score, the game becomes even more emotional.
“The players gave everything but it was not enough. We were not ruthless enough and Liverpool are in the final.”
Liverpool’s win in stats
- Liverpool have qualified for their 14th League Cup final, four more than any other side. It is the third time they have done so under Jurgen Klopp, with only Bob Paisley doing so more often as Reds boss.
- In the 2023-24 League Cup, Liverpool and Chelsea are set to contest a domestic cup final for a third time in the last three seasons – they faced in both the FA Cup and League Cup finals in 2021-22, with both games ending 0-0 and won on penalties by Liverpool.
- Luis Diaz scored his seventh goal of the season in all competitions for Liverpool, making 2023-24 now his best scoring season for the Reds. He has more away goals this season (5) than he managed in his previous two seasons combined (4).
- Liverpool have now eliminated Fulham in all six of their League Cup ties. In League Cup history, the only instances of one team knocking another out more often is Walsall vs Shrewsbury (7) and Liverpool vs Arsenal (7).
- Liverpool have scored 13 goals in the League Cup this season – on the last four occasions they have netted that many in a season, they have won the trophy: 16 in 1994-95, 20 in 2000-01, 13 in 2002-03 and 14 in 2011-12.
Fulham turn their attention to the FA Cup fourth round home tie with Newcastle on Saturday night, kick-off at 7pm.
Marco Silva’s side are then back in Premier League action with a home game against Everton on January 30, kick-off at 7.30pm.
Liverpool are also in FA Cup fourth round action with a home game against Norwich on Sunday, kick-off at 2.30pm.
The Reds then return to Premier League action with a home game against Chelsea on Janaury 31, kick-off at 8.15pm.