Liverpool remain on course to lift four trophies this season, but were pushed to the limit when scraping past Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Only Alisson, Virgil Van Dijk, Fabinho and Diogo Jota retained their places from Liverpool’s midweek win at Arsenal. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane were omitted from the squad entirely as Harvey Elliott and Roberto Firmino joined Jota up front.
Nottingham Forest made just one change from Wednesday’s victory over QPR, with Joe Lolley replacing injured defender Scott McKenna.
Buoyed by a raucous home crowd, Forest gave as good as they got inside the opening 10 minutes. Both sides looked threatening with each foray forward in what promised to be a thoroughly engaging affair.
Diogo Jota appeared to have the Forest goal at his mercy after Roberto Firmino’s neat flick sent him through. However, a perfectly-timed tackle from Joe Worrall scuppered the Portuguese just as he motioned to strike.
A key battle emerged down Liverpool’s left with Kostas Tsimikas duelling with the impressive Djed Spence. Both players strived to make their presence felt going forward, but were mindful of leaving their opposite number unattended.
Shots rained in from all distances and angles from both sides. But with 20 minutes played, neither goalkeeper had been required to make a save fit for their highlight reels.
But Forest almost became their own worst enemies when Jack Colback surrendered possession deep within his own half. Roberto Firmino was the benefactor and strolled towards goal with only Ethan Horvath to beat. The stopper stood up tall and repelled the Brazilian’s dinked effort, much to Colback’s relief.
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) March 20, 2022
But barring errors, Forest were largely preventing their Premier League opponents from testing Horvath to any great degree. The fact Joe Gomez and Tsimikas both tried their luck from distance twice each spoke volumes as to how the half was progressing.
A moment of panic greeted the second half for Liverpool.
Lung-busting pressing from Philip Zinckernagel forced a kicking error from Alisson Becker who redeemked himself by denying Keinan Davis at the second time of asking. The offside flag would’ve cut any celebrations short, but it was a warning if ever Liverpool needed one.
That seemed to spark a response from the visitors who forced Horvath into saves from Jota and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Gomez again tried his luck too, but Forest and Horvath would not budge.
Jurgen Klopp had seen enough and rung the changes with a quadruple substitution. Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcantara, Takumi Minamino and Luis Diaz all replaced Fabinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita and Elliott.
Steve Cooper responded by replacing Joe Lolley with Cafu. Lolley had run his blood to water in an all-action display.
Jota succeeds where Zinckernagel fails
It was Forest who created the golden opportunity following the raft of changes, but Zinckernagel could only cushion his effort narrowly wide after Liverpool were caught short at the far post.
That miss would immediately prove costly when Jota poached the go-ahead goal mere seconds later. Tsimikas picked out his forward who had peeled away to the back stick. Jota’s contact wasn’t perfect, but was enough to beat Horvath to put Liverpool one up with 10 minutes to play.
The hosts fought tooth and nail to snag an equaliser and were convinced they’d won a penalty when Alisson Becker felled Ryan Yates. Alisson’s outstretched arm was flat on the pitch with Yates dragging his foot to initiate contact. Referee Craig Pawson saw nothing doing and VAR concurred.
Forest threw everything including the kitchen sink at the Reds in five minutes of added time. But Liverpool’s rearguard remained undefeated to set up a mouth-watering semi-final clash with Man City in mid-April.