Liverpool keep pace in title fight with imperfect but crucial win over Fulham

Much of this was not pretty, but what mattered most for Liverpool was the scoreline. Victory on a potentially troublesome trip to Craven Cottage was just what the doctor ordered for a side ailing from a slump that had threatened to wreck their final season under Jurgen Klopp.

Though Ange Postecoglou may think differently, certainly for Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City, the time for winning by sustainable and repeatable means is over. The title race could scarcely be tighter. Liverpool had to win come what may, and win they did, 3-1 against Fulham.

Liverpool did, at moments, so lack the urgency they were expected to bring. Last weekend’s 1-0 defeat at Anfield to Crystal Palace left them no room for error, just as Aston Villa’s scalp of Arsenal left the Gunners in the same situation. The City juggernaut does not relent once the season enters April and May, yet Liverpool were often ponderous here.

The Reds have drawn 2-2 to Manchester United, fallen to Palace, and crashed out of the Europa League to unfancied Atalanta in the past fortnight. Fulham away did not appear an ideal route out of this lull — the Cottagers having beaten Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal this season. But goals from Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ryan Gravenberch and Diogo Jota earned Liverpool the points they so craved.

This was the fourth meeting between the sides this season, Liverpool 4-3 victors in December’s league thriller before prevailing 3-2 on aggregate to reach the Carabao Cup final with a 2-1 home win and 1-1 draw here in the semi-finals. These games are always close. This one was no different.

The difference, in the end, simply came down to a key moment — Alex Iwobi losing possession, Harvey Elliott slipping Gravenberch in, and the Dutchman exploiting the chasm Fulham had vacated at the edge of their box to curl past Bernd Leno and in off the post.

It was a fine goal from Gravenberch, and Liverpool’s first from open play in all of 390 minutes. It also regained Klopp’s side the lead they had needlessly lost in first-half stoppage time when the ball went pinballing around the box and Timothy Castagne picked up the pieces to thump home.

But never were Liverpool behind in this game, and they led through Alexander-Arnold’s sumptuous free-kick which curled gracefully over the Fulham wall and landed in the top corner just as he had planned. Snap moments of such quality do not win titles, but this one helped keep Liverpool’s title challenge sweet.

Liverpool slowed the game down but ramped up their control of things, scoring a crucial third when a loss of concentration from Fulham’s otherwise steadfast backline allowed Cody Gakpo to feed Diogo Jota and the latter to squeeze the ball beyond Leno.

It was back to winning ways for Arsenal yesterday against Wolves. Liverpool keep pace, with an imperfect win but a win nonetheless.