Wolverhampton 0 - 2 Liverpool
Salah 18’, Virgil Van Dijk 68’
If we’ve learned nothing about this year’s Liverpool FC squad it really ought to be that they can generally be counted upon to provide a professional performance. Where this year’s team might be missing the rampaging, score all the goals look of last year’s team, it also seems to have the composed look of a squad confident in itself. One might call it a title winning mindset. And on this particular night, we learned that this set of Reds can, in fact, do it on a cold, wet night at the Molineux.
The lineups released included only one slight surprise: James Milner playing at right back. With Trent Alexander-Arnold injured and Nathaniel Clyne having gone the full 90 against United on the weekend, it makes some sense that Jurgen Klopp might feel the need to rotate, undoubtedly with an eye to the trio of fixtures upcoming: Newcastle, Arsenal, and rivals in the title chase, Manchester City all come calling in a span of eight days. The only other change to the side that dispatched Mourinho’s side - and Mourinho - on the weekend is Jordan Henderson returning to action in place of Georginio Wijnaldum.
On the other side of the ball, Reds fans found a familiar face in Wolves defender and captain (!), Conor Coady. The young defender has done well for himself since his move, helping to serving as part of the core that earned promotion. Another familiar face and potential danger man is one of our own TLO writer’s faves: Ruben Neves.
The match kicked off as expected with Wolves looking to play the ball. And, based on the early action, it looked like they would certainly test Liverpool’s defensive mettle and discipline as a poor giveaway by Fabinho led to the first shot in the contest. Wide of the mark, it still signaled Wolves intent. A mere 5 minutes from that first shot, Adama Traore looked once more to pounce after strike partner Raul Jimenez released him on a nice layoff. But Virgil Van Dijk, in what will become a rather familiar refrain for the night, never looked out of place and helped to force Traore into shooting from an angle that made the save from Alisson pretty straightforward.
Most of the half played out in this way with Liverpool looking to dictate tempo and Wolves seeking to take advantage of the space created by their forays forward. Liverpool looked comfortable if not exactly threatening and Wolves looked unsettled if not quite ruffled by what Liverpool were offering.
In the 18th minute, though, Liverpool’s quality in helped to create a goal seemingly out of nothing. Coming from a deadfall situation on a foul drawn outside of the penalty area, a lofted ball that was only partially cleared fell to Fabinho. The lanky midfielder then did well to turn his defender and play a wonderful give and go with Sadio Mane before sending a low cross through the box. There, Mohamed Salah, the one who took the dead spot kick to begin with, put a sumptuous flick on the ball and Liverpool were ahead.
The goal itself seemed to help ease Liverpool into control and the first few minutes after the opener showed this. However, it wasn’t long until Wolves started to ratchet the pressure up on the Reds. The most dangerous players at the time seemed to be combination of Matt Doherty and Adama Traore. The two combined in the 38th minute to create a shot that called Alisson once more into service. And nearly two minutes later, Alisson would almost gift Wolves with a goal as he nearly misplayed the ball with an opposing player closing him down.
Still, Liverpool closed out the half with the lead and returned after the break with no changes in personnel. The changes to approach, though, were pretty evident as almost from the off it appeared that the space the likes of Doherty found in the early frame was suddenly cut out.
Out of that, Liverpool just continued to ratchet up the pressure. First, a chance in the 56th minute with Salah forcing Patricio into a block that nearly turned into an own goal as the parry came off one of Patricio’s teammates, but the lazily bouncing ball was cleared just shy of the line by Wolves defenders. Another shot would come a mere 10 minutes later, this time Mané forcing the Wolves keeper into action after a terrific one-two between Firmino and Salah.
It would be only one more minute before the goal that seemed inevitable at that point happened. Virgil Van Dijk had already come close early in the first half as he expertly brought down a cross before smashing a shot into a crowd of Wolves defenders. This time, Salah floats in a dangerous ball over the top with the former striker turned world’s best defender issuing a composed finish past Rui Patricio. And just like that, Liverpool looked a safe bet to walk away with all of the points as Wolves’ attack in the second half bore little resemblance to the mild threat they carried in the first.
If there is one small blemish on the day its that, sandwiched between the two goals, Naby Keita came off injured, being replaced by Adam Lallana. We don’t currently have details on the nature of the injury, but the following tweet fro Goal’s Neil Jones is promising:
Klopp says Keita has "two cuts" but that he doesn't think it'll be a huge problem. #LFC— Neil Jones (@neiljonesgoal) December 21, 2018
All told, it was a rather professional and complete performance from the lads with no real low marks to hand out. Despite their forays forward and the chances created, Wolves never looked to build on their sparse moments of ascendency, while Liverpool looked to be very composed and disciplined. It was the type of performance we’ve come to expect from this Liverpool squad in a way we have not in recent memory.
It is the mark of a champion and, at least as far as Christmas goes, Liverpool get to say they sit atop the field. Untouched and unmatched.