Liverpool will face Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-finals after overcoming a resolute Nottingham Forest thanks to a late strike from Diogo Jota.
The Portuguese forward latched onto Kostas Tsimikas’ cross to finish from close range in the 78th minute and keep the Reds’ hopes of an unprecedented quadruple alive. The goal came against the run of play as Forest were the better side for large swathes of the second half.
Jurgen Klopp seemed far from happy with what he saw from his side throughout the first hour and made a quadruple substitution to try and restore Liverpool’s control of the match. The likes of Luis Diaz and Thiago were introduced but it was Jota who found the vital breakthrough with his 19th goal of the season, which was confirmed after an offside check for VAR.
It was far from a vintage performance from the Anfield club, who had two let-offs in the closing stages as Philip Zinckernagel fired wide and Alisson was judged not to have fouled Ryan Yates in the area. However, the result means they are just 90 minutes away from reaching their first FA Cup final since 2012.
Here are five talking points from the City Ground.
Second-string shines at full-back
There is no denying Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are two of Liverpool’s most important players. However, the Reds made the trip to the Midlands without their two world-class full-backs as Alexander-Arnold is nursing a thigh injury and Robertson is unwell.
In the duo’s absence, Joe Gomez lined up on the right of defence and Kostas Tsimikas on the left – and they set about proving just why Klopp views his current squad as the best he has worked with. While Gomez does not offer Alexander-Arnold’s wicked deliveries from the flank, he was a rock in defence and read the diagonal passes Nottingham Forest launched towards Brennan Johnson with composure. The Englishman was booked for hauling down the winger in the second half but produced a superb intervention minutes later to dispossess Philip Zinckernagel.
Tsimikas was the more attacking of the full-backs and was entrusted with many of the set-piece duties against the Championship club. The Greece international summoned a brilliant, dipping volley from range in the early stages which soared narrowly over the bar and set up Diogo Jota’s winning goal with as right-footed cross.
Firmino’s moment to forget
Roberto Firmino is renowned for his cool head in front of goal having scored with plenty of no-look strikes and cheeky dinks since his arrival at Anfield. However, he will not want to watch his first-half chance against Nottingham Forest back in a hurry after squandering a golden chance to put Liverpool ahead.
The Brazilian was released through on goal after a defensive mishap and opted to try and chip Ethan Horvath from close range. To Firmino’s dismay, the Forest goalkeeper stood tall and made a strong save before the danger was cleared following a brief scramble. It was a huge let-off for the hosts – and a missed opportunity for the visitors.
Reds feel attacking absences
Although Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane were left out of the squad for the trip to the City Ground, Jurgen Klopp would still have expected his attack to show more cutting edge against Nottingham Forest, especially given the squad depth at his disposal. Salah suffered a recurrence of his recent foot injury while Mane was handed a rest before linking up with Senegal for the international break.
Therefore, Liverpool lined up with a front three of Roberto Firmino, Diogo Jota and Harvey Elliott but were unable to find a way through their hosts until the closing stages. Firmino was guilty of his aforementioned miss while through one-on-one and Elliott showed patches of trickery without much by way of end product. Elsewhere, Jota had a quiet game even if he popped up with the winning goal late on.
As the clocked ticked over the hour mark, Liverpool fans could be forgiven for calling for the likes of Luis Diaz, Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino to be introduced.
Forest excel after the interval
Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson and the centre-back pairing of Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate were largely untroubled throughout the first half thanks to the brilliant work of Fabinho in defensive midfield. But Nottingham Forest emerged from the break a different beast, noticeably pressing the Reds in a manner starkly different to their first-half approach.
It was as though manager Steve Cooper instructed his side to stay in the match throughout the first 45 minutes and hit the visitors with a taste of their own intense medicine in the second half. Alisson was kept far more busy as Forest launched balls into the area, even if they struggled to fashion shots on target, while Van Dijk and Joe Gomez made important blocks to prevent the hosts from busting through on goal.
Forest’s best chance of the match fell to Philip Zinckernagel, who could only scuff a close-range effort wide following a cross with the goal gaping.
Klopp rolls the dice
Jurgen Klopp chose to act in the 64th minute with a quadruple substitution which drastically altered the look of Liverpool’s midfield and attack. Off went Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Fabinho, Naby Keita and Harvey Elliott, on came Luis Diaz, Takumi Minamino, Thiago and Jordan Henderson.
The changes did not make an instant impact and Nottingham Forest were in fact the better team for the few minutes which immediately followed. However, the Reds proved their mettle by weathering the storm and hitting Forest with a sucker punch through Diogo Jota in the closing stages