Gravenberch and Jota keep Liverpool in title race with victory at Fulham

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Ryan Gravenberch;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Ryan Gravenberch</a> restores <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Liverpool;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Liverpool</a>’s lead against Fulham.</span><span>Photograph: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images</span>

Liverpool discovered their shooting boots by the Thames and, in doing so, kept the three-way title race alive. Perhaps Jürgen Klopp will still receive the most spectacular of sendoffs and he could take encouragement from the way a heavily changed side eventually circumvented an obvious banana skin. Their season was on the line and risked toppling altogether when Timothy Castagne punished an extended spell of scratchy defending by equalising shortly before half-time. More of the same would surely have meant a deflated final month of the campaign but Liverpool gathered themselves for a victory that could yet prove critical.

It was some moment for Ryan Gravenberch, essentially a squad player since arriving last summer, to score his first Premier League goal. Liverpool needed a flash of inspiration and it came eight minutes into the second half when Harvey Elliott, booed throughout at the club that blooded him aged 15, intercepted a skewed pass from Alex Iwobi midway inside Fulham’s half. Gravenberch had taken up a clear position just beyond the D and was quickly located by his teammate, rewarding his vision with a curling strike that whipped to Bernd Leno’s left and in.

Related: Gravenberch shines to make his case for Klopp’s midfield | Simon Burnton

From there Liverpool assumed full control and a repeat of their first-half showing, when they let Fulham back in after Trent Alexander-Arnold’s picturebook free-kick, never looked remotely likely. Diogo Jota added gloss with a clinical finish on his first start since mid-February; Klopp could deploy Mohamed Salah and Darwin Núñez from the bench for a late runaround rather than a knife-edge salvage operation.

They locked the game down in a manner that has recently eluded them but may, in a backhanded way, take some encouragement from Fulham’s approach to the match. Marco Silva’s side are comfortably safe but put in a particularly combative opening period and a similar display of spirit could yet trouble Manchester City when they visit on 11 May. Fulham had already beaten Arsenal here and the title contenders’ fortunes in this part of London could still be decisive one way or another.

For a while Liverpool looked to be in choppy waters, although perhaps those were still preferable to the bacteria-ridden course that flows beyond the new Riverside Stand. They had started well enough, Luis Díaz heading an Alexander-Arnold cross wide when well placed before scooting away down the right to deliver a centre that Jota scuffed off target. They were hardly prising Fulham open at will but Alexander-Arnold’s stroke of brilliance, applied shortly after the half-hour, was just about deserved.

Fulham can reflect on a second silly foul in a matter of minutes by João Palhinha, who was booked for felling Jota. Palhinha’s first offence had been a clip, also in Alexander-Arnold territory, on Cody Gakpo. On that occasion, Elliott, working under instruction from Liverpool’s coaching staff as it later turned out, took over and attempted to drill beneath a jumping wall.

He did not succeed, much to the crowd’s delight, but take two bore lavish fruit. This time Alexander-Arnold, 25 yards out and a shade to the left of centre, took his turn and the execution was perfect. Such positions are akin to a penalty for him; the ball arced deliciously into Leno’s top-right corner for the right-back’s first goal since early December, injury having marred much of his season since then.

Gakpo forced an acrobatic tip-over from Leno immediately afterwards and Liverpool should have turned the screw. But they gave Fulham encouragement in a 10-minute spell that Klopp later bemoaned and the leveller, while hardly flashing up in neon lights, was not entirely unexpected when it came. Rodrigo Muniz had worked Alisson from an angle and Andreas Pereira had protested furiously that the keeper got fingertips to a free-kick that fizzed over. When Iwobi clipped the ball across for a header from Muniz that Jarell Quansah blocked, Castagne was quickest to the loose ball and the picture changed markedly.

At that point City and Arsenal might have been licking their lips but Liverpool showed the character that, as Klopp pointed out afterwards, has brought a neck-and-neck fight at the top against many expectations. Elliott scraped a good opportunity wide shortly after they re-emerged but Gravenberch, who had generally played things too safe until then, soon stepped up and also had a hand in the third.

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It was Gravenberch’s pass that Gakpo, who looked strong and confident throughout, tamed before sending Jota through for a left-footed finish across Leno. Perhaps Leno could have got a firmer hand to the ball but he had already been worked hard, denying both Jota and Gakpo after the second goal. Liverpool eased home from there and closed things out with the authority of serious contenders.

“The second half was a complete performance,” Klopp said. They will need more of those but a few doubts may have been washed away here.