Darwin Nunez and Liverpool still haven't figured each other out: Winners & losers from the Reds win over Fulham as Trent Alexander-Arnold continues to shine in midfield role
It may not have been pretty, but Liverpool extended their winning streak to five matches with a 1-0 victory over Fulham at Anfield on Wednesday night. A debatable first-half penalty, converted by Mohamed Salah, was enough to consolidate Jurgen Klopp's side in fifth place in the Premier League, and keeps their slim chances of Champions League qualification alive.
Klopp was smiling at the end, though he may find plenty of reasons to grumble at the quality of his team's performance, particularly in the second half as Liverpool rode their luck amid a spirited Fulham onslaught.
Only the excellence of Alisson Becker and the wastefulness of Bobby Decordova-Reid prevented Marco Silva's men from leaving with a point, as Liverpool held on for their third straight Anfield win, each of them by a single-goal margin.
GOAL breaks down the winners & losers...
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WINNER: Trent Alexander-Arnold
Sometimes a change is as good as a rest, and Alexander-Arnold has had both recently.
Left out of the Liverpool team at Chelsea at the beginning of April, when the England right-back returned it was in a new hybrid role, a full-back-cum-midfielder, tasked with covering the flank while dictating play in the middle.
A tough task, you'll agree, but Alexander-Arnold looks to be relishing his new directive. His passing range has always stood out, but of late it seems to have gone up a level. The switches of play and the whipped crosses are still there, but so are the first-time flicks round the corner, the drilled passes into the feet of his forwards and the short, simple, tempo-setting in the centre of the field.
He's brimming with confidence, and that has spread to his defending. He's been more aggressive, stronger in the challenge, better in the air. He was up against a tough customer here in Willian, Fulham's veteran Brazilian winger, but he more than held his own.
Alexander-Arnold won back possession 15 times on the night, more than anyone else on the field and more than double the tally of any Liverpool player. He had more touches (122), completed more passes (74), contested as many tackles (3) and had as many shots (3) as anyone else on the field.
In short, a complete performance from a player who is looking more complete by the week.
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LOSER: Darwin Nunez
The Kop chanted his name after two minutes when he closed down a Fulham defender, and then again when he drove forward to win a throw-in on the right wing soon after. They chanted his name when he steered a half chance wide in the second half, and even more when he left the field, seven minutes from the end of the 90. Nunez, Nunez, Nunez!
The Uruguayan is clearly a fans' favourite, but as his first season at Anfield draws to a close, it is fair to say that he and Liverpool are still figuring one another out.
This was Nunez's first start in a month, and while Klopp would declare himself satisfied with the former Benfica forward's performance in his post-match press conference, he too will know that improvement is needed if the 23-year-old is to do what the likes of Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have done before him, and take the next step after a big-money switch to Merseyside.
Certainly, the potential is there. A return of 15 goals and five assists - the latest came here as he won the penalty from which Salah won the game - is far from poor for a debut season in a new league. Nunez's work-rate and whole-hearted style has already endeared him to supporters, and his power, speed and movement should enable him to develop further under Klopp, whose record when it comes young, promising forward players is little short of exceptional.
Right now, though, Nunez is not in Liverpool's best XI, and given the club paid an initial £64 million (£80m) to sign him last summer, that has to be a source of concern.
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WINNER: Alisson Becker
The glory may have belonged to Salah, again, but Liverpool owed this victory to their goalkeeper, again. Twice the Reds needed Alisson to stand firm, and twice the Brazilian delivered, denying his countryman, Carlos Vinicius, once in the first half and once in the second.
They were different saves, too, as Alisson flew high to his right to bat away Vinicius' 20-yard strike at the Kop End, before spreading himself bravely at the Fulham striker's feet as the Cottagers pushed for a late equaliser.
In a season in which standards have slipped at Anfield, the Reds' No.1 has continued to maintain his. Without him, where on earth would Klopp's side be?
LOSER: Liverpool's away form
If only every game was played at Anfield, eh?
Much has changed with regards to Liverpool this season, but their prodigious home form remains. They have taken 40 points from a possible 51 on home soil, the third-best record in the league behind Manchester City and Arsenal, and their only defeat remains that inexplicable loss to Leeds United back in October.
They have saved their best for the best and the biggest, you'd have to say. City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Newcastle and now Fulham have all been vanquished, and there were rousing fightbacks from two down against both Arsenal and Brighton.
In seven Anfield games against the Premier League's top 10 clubs, Liverpool have won five and drawn two. Encouraging, given they complete their home schedule against eighth-placed Brentford and seventh-placed Aston Villa.
The flip side, of course, is that their away form has been wretched, the ninth-best record in the division. Had it been even average, Liverpool would be safe and sound in a Champions League qualification place by now.
WINNER: Mohamed Salah
Who said Liverpool needed to find themselves a new penalty taker, then? OK, so this correspondent got it wrong. Not for the first time and not for the last, I'm sure. Doubt Salah? What on earth were we thinking?!
The Egyptian was emphatic in hammering home his side's winning goal from the spot, six minutes from half-time. It was Salah's 29th of the season, and his 185th for Liverpool. He is now within one of Steven Gerrard at No.5 on the Reds' all-time list.
He has also now scored in each of his last eight appearances at Anfield, becoming only the third Liverpool player to achieve such a feat, after Gordon Hodgson in 1927-28 and Luis Suarez in 2013-14.
This wasn't his best or most destructive game, by any means, but even a six-out-of-10 Salah is better and more decisive than most Premier League forwards. He'll hit 30 goals again this season, for sure, the fourth time he'll have managed that in six seasons at Liverpool. He really is a machine.
LOSER: Issa Diop
It was only a momentary lapse, but it was certainly a costly one.
There looked to be little danger when, with time running out at the end of the first half, Tosin Adaribayo rolled the ball to Diop, his central defensive partner, just inside the Fulham penalty area. Diop had time to clear his lines, but for some reason the Frenchman delayed, allowing Nunez to close him down and nick the ball as he swung his left foot at it. There was contact with the striker - minimal, it has to be said - and referee Stuart Attwell had little hesitation pointing to the spot. VAR saw no reason to overrule the official, and Salah did the rest from 12 yards.
It was a shame for Diop, who performed well for the most part, and it was a shame for Fulham, who are a good, well-coached team, and who controlled Liverpool well, particularly in the second half.
Indeed, had it not been for Alisson, or had substitute Bobby Decordova-Reid been a little more composed with a stoppage-time opportunity, the Londoners would have left with something to show for their efforts.