Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp insists his belief is endless in his forwards whether they score or not after Darwin Nunez had an impactful but not ultimately decisive role in the 2-1 Carabao Cup semi-final first-leg win over Fulham.

After coming off the bench in the 56th minute, the Uruguay international provided the assist for Curtis Jones’ deflected equaliser and then the cross from which fellow substitute Cody Gakpo swept home the winner.

On another day Nunez, who has scored just once in the last 16 matches, could have had a late hat-trick after being denied by goalkeeper Bernd Leno which would have virtually put Liverpool in the final ahead of the second leg in a fortnight.

“He plays outstanding, I have to say it. There are so many things I love about his game,” said Klopp.

“The first year was a year to adapt and he scored here and there but now he contributes in all games.

“The boys don’t start because they score or not score. My belief and trust in them, as long as they behave properly, is endless. They deserve it because of the effort they put in.

“I don’t know how to explain the Darwin situation. I’m so happy about Darwin’s reaction and how he takes it but you cannot be more unlucky in these finishing situations, that’s not possible.

“He does absolutely everything right, yet ball not in. And then he still sets up the other goal. I think that is really special to do that again.”

Liverpool’s substitutes have contributed 15 goals and 15 assists in all competitions this season, 12 better than any other Premier League team, and Nunez has been responsible for three goals and four assists.

His contribution was crucial as Klopp had no other options as the six other outfield substitutes were all academy graduates, the oldest of whom was 21-year-old left-back Owen Beck, recalled from a loan spell with Dundee.

The players currently absent, either with injury or international duty, are Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Thiago Alcantara, Dominik Szoboszlai, Joel Matip, Andy Robertson, Wataru Endo, Kostas Tsimikas and Stefan Bajcetic.

“We have more players available usually but the boys who came on have real quality, obviously, already,” added Klopp.

“That we can bring Cody and Darwin from the bench, that is a proper change. On top of that, we changed the system and the formation and the set-up.”

Fulham boss Marco Silva was grateful to still have a chance in the second leg after they failed to capitalise on Willian’s 19th-minute opener.

“Two different halves. It wasn’t our best performance, even so first half we had a plan. We were ruthless from the first moment and really good from Willian when we scored,” he said.

“The second half was different, we struggled a bit more. We should manage them in a different way.

“They were a bit lucky the first goal, a deflection that changed completely the game, and the only thing that is disappointing is the way we managed the next 10 minutes.

“In a competition where we are playing two legs we cannot concede a fast attack like that. Liverpool had one or two chances to score the third and the reality is that Leno kept us in the game.”

Substitutes Cody Gakpo and Darwin Nunez came off the bench to help turn around Liverpool’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg at home to Fulham and ensured they will take a 2-1 lead to Craven Cottage.

The pair were introduced early in the second half with the hosts trailing to Willian’s 19th-minute goal after a Virgil van Dijk error.

Liverpool were struggling for creativity without the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold – who helped turn a 3-2 Fulham lead into a 4-3 Reds win in last month’s Premier League meeting – but as at Arsenal in the FA Cup at the weekend Jurgen Klopp’s changes altered the game.

Nunez added a directness which had been lacking while Gakpo brought the composure and control to midfield Ryan Gravenberch had not before he was replaced by his Netherlands team-mate.

And the pair combined for Gakpo to score in the 71st minute, just three minutes after Curtis Jones’ deflected equaliser.

The last team to win at Anfield was Real Madrid in February. Before that it was another side in white, Leeds in October 2022, and Fulham – in their first League Cup semi-final – must have been encouraged by the start they had.

Klopp made six changes from the weekend and while that saw 20-year-old Conor Bradley deputise for Alexander-Arnold in only his second start of the season, it also included the return of Van Dijk.

The Netherlands captain was back after illness but his decision to head a ball aimlessly sideways on the edge of his area proved costly.

Andreas Pereira nipped in behind and cut the ball back to the penalty spot where a couple of neat touches from Willian opened up the space for him to fire through the legs of the recovering Dutchman and give goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher little chance.

Moments later Van Dijk was booked for catching Pereira in the face with an arm as his travails continued.

But his personal difficulties were matched by his team, who were too one-paced in their build-up.

Harvey Elliott was given Mohamed Salah’s position on the right wing but his role often seemed to require filling the space usually occupied by Alexander-Arnold, which meant dropping deep with Bradley pushing forward as an orthodox over-lapping full-back.

But apart from an early Jones attempt straight at Bernd Leno and a Diogo Jota narrow-angle shot across the face of goal chances were rare with Fulham having more on target in the first half.

The tempo increased after the break with Gravenberch shooting wide and Jota delaying a fraction too long having created space for himself with a square run across the penalty area allowing Antonee Robinson to block.

But as the hosts pressed for the equaliser Fulham were able to expose the space opening up in Liverpool’s defence and Kelleher got down low to parry a Bobby Decordova-Reid shot.

Alexis Mac Allister’s cross was turned over by Leno but the equaliser had an element of good fortune when Jones took aim from distance and went in off Tosin Adarabioyo’s back.

Leno was beaten again when Gakpo turned home Nunez’s near-post cross after linking with Jota.

Liverpool’s all-action Uruguay international could have all-but sealed Liverpool’s passage to Wembley before the return leg but a full-stretch Leno tipped over his header, pushed away a fierce drive and blocked his close-range effort.

Fulham manager Marco Silva described Willian as “class” after the Brazilian’s stunning display in the 3-1 victory over Sheffield United at Craven Cottage.

The 35-year-old added Fulham’s third in stoppage time and was largely unplayable during a dominant performance.

Bobby De Cordova-Reid’s strike and an unfortunate Wes Foderingham own goal had twice put the Cottagers ahead with the Blades equalising after Antonee Robinson put into his own net.

After Willian opened his account for the season, Silva said: “He was class. He’s a class player and he has incredible quality.

“He played with a very good intensity and it was probably one of his best games this season so far and I’m really pleased for him because of the quality he has.

“He did so many things. The way he created on the left was very good.

“The players with the top quality can decide any moment of the game and they make the difference in football. The decisions Willian made came in the right moments and he’s a top-class player.

“He scored the goal because he believed he had other chances to score and I’m really pleased for him.”

Fulham have struggled for goals since the August departure of star striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, scoring five times in the Premier League prior to the victory over the Blades.

Silva believes his players need to be more clinical in front of goal after missed chances in the first half gave Sheffield United a way back into the game through Robinson’s own goal.

“The first half we were at a very good level,” Silva added.

“From the right and the left we were creating from the first moments and when you create so many chances, the normal thing is to put the ball in the net because some of the chances were so clear.

“We are creating more and the goals have to come if you are creating the number of chances we are.

“It was a game where we could have scored more goals. But we got three and we have to be happy with three.”

Blades boss Paul Heckingbottom was left frustrated.

He said: “In the second half when you’re in control of the ball, losing it at the top-end of the pitch and for us to concede is poor and it’s a naivety.

“I can’t fault the effort, the organisation and the intent of the players but it’s a naivety when you’re playing against these.”

Willian rolled back the years as Fulham cruised to a 3-1 victory over Sheffield United.

The 35-year-old Brazilian produced a stunning display, cementing his side’s win with a third goal following Bobby De Cordova-Reid’s strike and an unfortunate Wes Foderingham own goal.

United’s only goal also came when Antonee Robinson put into his own net.

Fulham – looking to bounce back from their 2-0 defeat to west London rivals Chelsea on Monday – started strongly and in the sixth minute Willian picked the ball up on the left and beat his man on the outside before De Cordova-Reid failed to convert his inch-perfect delivery.

Willian was off the pace on Monday but he looked to make up for it with surging runs forward, one which nearly set up Vinicius before his own shot inside the box was saved by Foderingham after 19 minutes.

Play halted for an extended period after Blades skipper Chris Basham suffered a serious ankle injury which saw him carried off on a stretcher with the score at 0-0.

But the Willian show resumed immediately and Fulham went close when the former Chelsea winger combined with Vinicius on the break before a quality defensive tackle denied the hosts taking the lead after 40 minutes.

Sheffield United were being outfought, they rarely had meaningful touches in Fulham’s territory and their first-half performance begged the question as to where their chances would come from. Their hosts always looked the favourite to get the first goal.

And Fulham should have done just that but they squandered the best chance of the match so far during 14 minutes added-time.

Willian ghosted his marker with his explosive acceleration before he produced another exceptional cross to the feet of countryman Andreas Pereira who somehow found a way to sky his chance from six yards out.

Fulham’s wasted chances were a reminder as to why their five league goals are the joint-lowest in the Premier League this season.

But in the 53rd minute the Cottagers took a deserved lead through De Cordova-Reid.

Fulham transitioned quickly and a splitting pass from Pereira set the Jamaica international through before he held his nerve to convert past Foderingham and give the hosts a 1-0 advantage.

But in the 67th minute Sheffield United forced an own goal to level the score at 1-1.

Fulham’s Issa Diop went down injured but the Blades refused to kick the ball out and Yasser Larouci’s dangerous cross cannoned off Antonee Robinson into his own net.

The goal was far from deserved but the Cottagers paid the price for their earlier missed chances which opened the door for the opportunistic visitors to strike.

However substitute Tom Cairney bailed his side out when his long shot forced an own goal and gave Fulham the lead.

The Scot let fly, hitting the crossbar and the ball bounced on to the back of the well-beaten Foderingham and into the net as Fulham took a 2-1 lead in bizarre circumstances.

Willian got the goal he deserved in the eighth minute of stoppage time with a powerful shot that beat Foderingham and settled the game.

Willian visited the Nottingham Forest training ground ahead of a possible transfer this summer.

The Brazilian is out of contract at Fulham and has been in talks with Forest about a switch to the City Ground.

He visited the club’s facility on Thursday but has not yet agreed a deal, the PA news agency understands.

The Cottagers have also offered the 34-year-old a new contract after an impressive 2022/23 campaign.

The former Chelsea and Arsenal winger scored five times in 25 appearances as Marco Silva’s side enjoyed a top-half finish.

Forest made 30 signings last year in their first season back in the top tier but they are not expected to be as active this year.

They are targeting up to eight new arrivals as they aim to build on last year’s 16th-placed finish.

Willian believes the Brazil national team are in a transition period as they look to appoint a new coach.

Brazil have not yet appointed a permanent successor to Tite, who left after the Selecao were knocked out of the 2022 World Cup by Croatia in the quarter-finals.

Carlo Ancelotti is reportedly wanted by the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF).

Brazil will play friendlies against Guinea and Senegal in June, with interim coach Ramon Menezes naming a strong squad, and Willian, who was part of the Selecao's squad for the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, feels that the national team is also in need of a fresh injection of talent into the squad.

"In 2018 we were very confident that we could reach the final and win the title," he told Stats Perform.

"This time, I thought Brazil were a strong candidate to reach the final and win the World Cup, but that didn't work out either.

"So it's hard to tell if it [a sixth World Cup win] is far away or if is close. I think now Brazil are in a transition process, waiting for a coach and also a change in the players.

"But Brazil's national team will always enter any competition to win. It is the team with the most World Cup titles, so it will always enter the World Cup or any other competition to win."


Asked who he thinks should be the next coach of Brazil, Willian said: "It's hard to give an opinion because a lot of people say it should be a foreigner, and a lot of people say it should be Brazilian.

"I think it has to be a manager that helps the team, regardless of being Brazilian or foreign. But one that will help the team to reach the main objective which is to be able to be champion of the World Cup."

When it was put to him that it would be easier if a Brazil coach spoke Portuguese, Willian replied: "I think so, but it depends. When you're on the pitch, the language of football is universal.

"I think it helps to speak the same language, but it's not a question that makes any difference in the end.

"The important thing is to have a coach who knows how to manage the group, who knows how to talk to each player, do the work on the pitch and has the human part too, which is very important in football today.

"Regardless of whether the coach speaks the same language or not, the most important thing is that he knows how to deal with the players."

Fulham forward Willian is delighted to have proved detractors wrong in his return to the Premier League this campaign.

The 34-year-old spent seven seasons at Chelsea and joined Arsenal in 2020, where his three-year agreement was cut short by mutual consent after just one season.

Some wondered if that unhappy spell at the Emirates would mark the end of the Brazil international’s time in the English top flight before Marco Silva’s side  snapped him up on a one-year deal set to expire in June.

Willian, who picked up an assist in Fulham’s 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace, said: “When I left Chelsea, Arsenal, it didn’t work, you know, and then I went back to Brazil. I think some people did think I was finished but I proved, not for them but for me, that I can play in the Premier League again.

“I’m proud to be doing what I have been doing this season. I think a lot of people didn’t believe that I can come back to the Premier League and do the same job that I had been doing a lot of years ago, I’m proud of it as well and I just want to keep playing with a smile on my face. ”

The assist brought Willian’s campaign tally to four, having also netted five goals across 26 appearances for the Cottagers. He would have made it six against Palace but for Sam Johnstone’s fingertip save of his skilled effort.

Fulham have one more attempt to match or break their all-time Premier League points tally, 53. That record was set in 2008-09 under Roy Hodgson, who occupied the visitors’ dugout on Saturday.

Willian’s side currently sit 10th with 52 points, and will look to make history against Manchester United on Sunday, the Brazilian vowing “we still have to believe we can break the record, so let’s do it.”

After that, he added: “I have a contract until the end of June, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Of course it’s some place that I feel good here to play (at). I have to speak to the club to see the situation. Let’s see what’s going to happen.”

Eberechi Eze has been one of the brightest sparks for Palace this season with a team-leading 10 goals and four assists, renewing calls for Gareth Southgate to consider him for an England call-up this summer.

The arrival of Hodgson back at Selhurst Park further fuelled the midfielder, who admitted he may be playing the best football of his life.

Asked how much he’s enjoying himself right now, Eze replied: “Loads, loads. I feel like I’ve got the freedom to play, to do my thing and I’m just happy to be playing and enjoying my football.

“I just feel like I’ve been given the freedom. I found it difficult at times, as a team we were going through a tough period so that’s natural, but since the gaffer has come in I feel like we have worked well together.

“I’ve obviously played with him before, so I understand what he wants and where he wants me to be, so I think that’s helped.

“I want to continue to play how I’ve been playing, I want to continue enjoying it, contributing to the game as much as I can and I feel like that is the most important thing.”

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