LIVERPOOL VS. WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS
| Saturday, January 7th |
FA Cup | Anfield
8PM GMT/3PM EST
We cannot predict what we’ll see from Wolves: They have been struggling with Everton for the “worst team to watch” crown this season, have a new manager, and have a really good opportunity in their upcoming quarterfinal in the League Cup that might pull their domestic cup attention.
Given their form and their brand new manager, Julen Lopetegui, this match migt well be as an opportunity to try something different — and given their form, Wolves need something that works — with arguably less consequences than any other in their calendar. Whether or not there are any shifts in tactics or personnel for form reasons, Lopetegui has had a lot less time (just three days) to prepare for this fixture, and they play again four days after; as such, squad rotation might be expected here even without other context.
Since they’ve progressed in the League Cup and have a favorable draw (they play Nottingham Forest on the 11th of January), the League Cup is likely their cup concentration. They are battling it out at the bottom of the league table as well, so there’s not a lot of forgiving fixtures in that calendar. They’ll want to come to Anfield and win, of course, but it’s hard not to see this as their least important fixture.
It has to be said, however, that the current iteration of Liverpool is far from perfect, so nothing can be ruled out.
Wolves will be without Chiquinho, Pedro Neto, Sasa Kalajdzic, and Boubacar Traore. Daniel Podence got a knock midweek, so might be unavailable for Wolves.
Predicted Liverpool Lineup (4-3-3)
Kelleher; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Gomez, Robertson; Thiago, Henderson, Bajitic; Salah, Núñez, Oxlade-Chamberlain*
*I do think Gakpo will feature, and might well do so from the start — but Oxlade-Chamberlain could continue to be rewarded for decent performances
Liverpool, like Wolves, have been hard to watch. I disagree with many who suggest it’s all doom and gloom: for the fist bit against Brentford, for instance, it looked to me like The Reds were back!...but then we failed to score our chances, and then were befuddled by their corner routines and heads left, and here we are again.
Manager Jürgen Klopp spoke well on his perception of the issues in Liverpool off the ball last game: “We should have been 2-0 up before Brentford even had a corner. We have to work hard to force luck and then to have the momentum — and not the opponent. We lost it and it’s the opposite of what we wanted but we want to be more clear, balanced, structured and intense. That’s what we’re working on.”
The defensive lapses will not be helped by Virgil Van Dijk being out for the medium term with a hamstring issue, but drilling on structure and intensity can certainly take place with or without the Dutch centerback.
In terms of personnel, there have been no other major changes for the Reds: Jordan Henderson, who missed the last match through concussion, will be once again available for selection, and Liverpool’s injured forwards — Luis Díaz, Roberto Firmino, and Diogo Jota — remain sadly unavailable. Arthur Melo, who definitely exists, is still injured, and much has been made on social media about Naby Keïta’s visibility (or lack thereof) in training ground images.
Though this is a domestic cup, and thus we might expect rotation, there is no “holiday crunch” in the schedule as usual; instead, the Reds have a full seven days before they’re in action again.
As such, a stronger starting lineup is possible, particularly given that it’s clear Liverpool aren’t quite a well-oiled machine in terms of post-World Cup form. The question is thus how strong Klopp chooses to go: will he play the most senior available centerback pairing of Ibrahima Konaté and Joël Matip, or will he rotate in one or more of Joe Gomez or Nathaniel Phillips to make sure they’re fit if needed? Will we see a fully senior midfield (and if so, which one?), or will the likes of Stefan Bajčetić, who has already shone, be given the customary domestic cup chance?
It’s likely that Caoimhín Kelleher will start in goal given that you’d think he’d be promised some minutes to keep such a talented goalkeeper happy as a number two, but beyond that the approach is hard to predict.
The main question for us all is certainly whether new signing Cody Gakpo starts for his new club: per Klopp, he has settled into training nicely, and might well get a go from the start — or come in off the bench.
What the Managers Had to Say
Jurgen Klopp: “If you play Wednesday, Saturday, Tuesday then you have to think about. But we played Monday, then Saturday and Saturday. It’s clear we will line up as good and strong and experienced as we can.”
Julen Lopetegui: ““I don’t understand how we play in one competition with two days’ less [preparation] than the opponent. Maybe one day [less preparation], it can happen. But two days, it is a lot. It is a big difference for us. They have two days’ recovery more. I am sorry but I don’t understand this.”
Referee: Andrew Madley Assistant Referees: Harry Lennard & Nick Hopton Fourth Official: David Coote VAR: Michael Dean AVAR: Simon Bennett
Kickoff is set for 3PM GMT/10AM EST tomorrow. Stick with The Liverpool Offside team to keep yourself up to date with team news and match buildup, live updates, and post-match reaction. If you want to join the discussion, sign up for an SB Nation account and have your say on the action as it happens.