Liverpool remains the favorites to win the Carabao Cup this season after edging through as Storm Ciaran caused chaos at the Vitality Stadium.
After 31 minutes where both sides struggled in the conditions, Cody Gakpo struck from close range after Harvey Elliott’s deflected shot was saved by Ionut Radu. Justin Kluivert levelled just after the hour mark but just minutes later, a screamer from away substitute Darwin Nunez proved decisive.
With Premier League survival the undoubted priority for Andoni Iraola and co, the hosts are unlikely to view the defeat as damaging long term. But the Reds are now firmly in the mix for a return to Wembley, and the chance to again land silverware after finishing the 2022/23 campaign without a trophy.
There might have been eight changes from the Liverpool starting XI that beat Nottingham Forest on Sunday. However, Jurgen Klopp still made his intentions clear.
In starting Mohamed Salah and Dominik Szoboszlai, the manager made sure to include both his top scorer and best performing player this season. The Egyptian forward missed a penalty when the Reds lost on their last visit to the Vitality Stadium in March, and in truth endured a frustrating night individually, but goals from Gakpo and Nunez were enough regardless.
The bench was also loaded with the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Diogo Jota, Trent Alexander-Arnold and of course, Nunez. Liverpool may well be set to challenge for the Premier League title and also taking the Europa League seriously, but make no mistake, with Man City out of the picture Klopp is clearly targeting Carabao Cup success.
It’s not simply the win which would have pleased the visitors, but also the fact they had to come through beyond inclement weather to get it.
No one signs up to football in England without expecting a spot of rain in November, but conditions tonight had a profound effect on the spectacle. And they were summarised aptly in the first half when home keeper Ionu Radu, on loan from Inter Milan, attempted a clearance in the howling wind that barely left his box.
The forecast is set to marginally improve for the weekend, and fans need it to. Those who splashed out for tonight’s cup tie undoubtedly endured 90 plus minutes that was severely hampered by wind and rain.
Ever since his arrival on Merseyside last summer, Darwin Nunez has been formidable and frustrating in equal measures.
Sometimes wonderful around goal, but often woeful in front of it, his final season tally of 15 goals in all competitions last season was underwhelming given the chances presented to him. But tonight’s stunner meant a goal in each of his last three appearances for the Reds, and five in six appearances for club and country.
And the nature of his strike, cutting in from the left and whipping a shot over Radu into the top of the net, showcased why Klopp paid £64million to bring him into Anfield. Should he continue his current consistency and match-winning form, then what was initially perceived as a lofty fee could soon appear a bargain.