Reds Top at Xmas
Liverpool took their chance to seal the top spot on the Premier League table for Christmas after what was ultimately a professional, if at times difficult, night. Wolves are a good team and they deservedly find themselves just behind ‘the big six’ clubs in seventh place.
Despite the Reds’ excellent run of results and encouraging form, this game had ‘potential banana peel’ written all over it. This point is further emphasised by the fact that Wolves are so far the only other team in the League to take points off of Manchester City apart from Liverpool and Chelsea.
Nevertheless, Klopp’s men were able to get the job done relatively comfortably despite a couple of nervy moments in testing conditions. Goals for Salah and van Dijk were enough to see Liverpool through with a 2-0 victory.
Alisson – 7.5
Alisson bounced back from his high-profile, but ultimately meaningless, error against Manchester United to put in a solid performance in tricky conditions for a ‘keeper.
He didn’t have much to do with his hands though, and when he was called into action, it was to cover for a teammate who’d carelessly given possession away in our defensive third. His control with his feet was typically impressive, and in any case, he handled himself well despite the weather.
James Milner – 7.5
The respect and trust that the squad and management have for Milner was on show again as despite Clyne’s admirable performance last week, Klopp didn’t hesitate to put Milner in at right-back now that he’s recovered from a minor injury.
Despite taking a while to get into the game, Milner was able to justify the faith that the manager showed him. He used the ball effectively and coped with the defensive side of the game well after struggling early on with how frequently he was being targeted.
Dejan Lovren – 6.5
Lovren was one of the more guilty parties that required Alisson to rescue them with some simple, but crucial saves. To be fair though, he hardly put a foot wrong in the second half. It’s doubtful that Lovren with ever be able to entirely distance himself from the clumsy accident waiting to happen that many see him as. However, if he continues to minimise these mistakes and those around him are able to cover for him, then he’ll still be a serviceable and valuable member of the squad until the end of the season.
Virgil van Dijk – (Man of the Match) 9.5
It feels odd to consider where a player that’s been at the club for less than a year fits into the discussion of all-time greatest centre-backs that our club’s ever seen, but such has been the impact of VVD at Liverpool. He showed the perfect balance of strength, pace, and intelligence to deal with the dangerous duo of Adama Traore and Raul Jiminez.
He rounded out the result with a deserved and expertly-taken goal that you’d expect to see from a top striker, not a centre-back. That was also, surprisingly, his first in the League for the club, but clean sheets are far more important, and he’s delivered plenty of those.
Andy Robertson – 7
Robbo appeared to struggle to come to grips with the weather and to appropriately adjust his approach to suit it, which did strike me as odd considering he’s Scottish!
Like Lovren though, Robbo improved greatly in the second half. He ran as hard as ever and made a few important defensive contributions, but his passing was far below the standards that he’s set for himself in the last 12 months.
Fabinho – 7.5
Fresh off of a Man of the Match performance against Manchester United, Fabinho seemed determined to use that game as a springboard to really get his Liverpool career going. While he wasn’t quite as impactful against Wolves as he was against the Mancs, he still played a big part in the victory.
His only mistake, thankfully, led to nothing after he passed the ball straight to a Wolves attacker on the edge of the box. Aside from this moment of madness though, he broke up attacks well, played his way out of tricky situations, and bagged his second assist in two games, this time through a pinpoint cutback to Salah.
Jordan Henderson – 7.5
Hendo won’t get the same plaudits that Fabinho is rightfully earning, but the captain is steadily playing his way into Liverpool’s best XI with his recent performances that’ve been a monumental improvement over some dull displays earlier in the season.
He reacted to the conditions better than any player on the park and was regularly first to loose balls, quick to shut down attacking movements before they happened, and got the ball moving quickly. The next step is to make these performances much more regular.
Bobby Firmino – 7
Bobby appears to be edging closer and closer to his best. He was by no means bad in this game, but he’s still not quite back yet despite some encouraging signs.
He looked good early on and seemed more comfortable with picking up the ball from a far deeper position than he has in some other games, but he appeared to fatigue badly as the game wore on. Some of his touches were sublime though, and he almost recreated his stunning moment from the United game when he wriggled through a few Wolves defenders, but this time, his shot was blocked.
Sadio Mane – 7
This is what a ‘bad night’ for Mane tends to look like. He almost never has a terrible game, but on night’s like the Wolves match he gets into wonderful positions and then either wastes them with a poor final ball or sabotages himself with a hideous first touch.
His decision making encouragingly improved as the game went on, and it’s comforting to know that Mane’s still a threat when he’s playing near his worst.
Naby Keita – 6
Keita started well, but utterly crumbled as the game went on and his unenviable tendency to turn the ball over far too easily in our own half gave Wolves far more chances than they should’ve had. He needs to start building on the flashes of talent that we’ve seen.
Worryingly, he was hauled off injured, but Klopp seemed certain that it was nothing too serious. Injuries and role changes have certainly played their part in his slow start and his tendency to go down easily in this match may have been a sign of his low confidence.
Mo Salah – 9
All Reds fans are ecstatic with the fact that Salah is back to his near-best given the important run of fixtures that we’re still in the middle of, and in the context of this season’s significance.
Salah scored again to take him back to the top of the Premier League goalscoring charts with a lovely flicked finish, and he might count himself unlucky not to have added to that total further. He also assisted VVD’s goal with a sumptuous cross that took out the entire defensive line.
Adam Lallana – (on for Keita 58′) 7
Regardless of what you may think of him or his long-term future at the club, every player will need to play their part this season, and that includes Lallana. His energy and experience helped see the game out, and sometimes that’s all you really need from a substitute. In certain games, it’s invaluable.
Gini Wijnaldum – (on for Firmino 76′) 6
Gini helped sure up the midfield once he came on. An important, but thankless task.
Nathaniel Clyne – (on for Mane 87′) N/A
No time to make an impact.
Simon Mignolet, Xherdan Shaqiri, Divock Origi, Daniel Sturridge.
Jurgen Klopp – 9
As has been the case for quite a while now, Klopp got his team selection spot on, and his decisions to play Milner at right-back, as well as a midfield duo of Hendo and Fabinho worked a treat.
Klopp also used his subs wisely by taking a player off early who was struggling and had picked up a knock in Keita, and then hooking Firmino off once he began to fatigue. Arguably the Mane substitution perhaps should’ve happened at this time as well to keep as many key players as fresh as possible, but that’d be a severe case of nitpicking.
One criticism I will standby however is Klopp’s continued erratic use of Keita. It’s not just that the Guinean hasn’t gotten the chance to play in a run of games yet, (although to be fair, that’s partially down to injury and to a lesser extent form), it’s that when he is played, it’s never in the same position or role that he took up on the previous occasion. It’s making a tough situation more difficult than it needs to be. I believe this is the key issue in his lackluster form and clear dip in confidence. I trust Klopp to get this right eventually, but I’d like it to happen ASAP. We need the Keita from the opening game back.
Bigger Win Than Perceived
Given how far Liverpool have come in the last 12 months or so, you can forgive some fans and pundits for overlooking this win as expected and therefore more a case of 0 points dropped rather than 3 points gained.
However, Wolves are no slouches, as City and Chelsea found out, so going to the Molineux was never going to be an easy affair, but crucially, we did it on a night where the conditions made a difficult task truly taxing. Fans put up with the rain, snow, and freezing cold well enough, but its effect on an attacking team like Liverpool shouldn’t be underestimated.
It would’ve been so easy to get drawn into a scrappy match after a number of passes didn’t stick early on, and who knows if the result would’ve been the same if that happened. The Reds dug in though, and the fact that we played the game more or less on our own terms is extremely impressive under the circumstances.
Scoring and Smiling
One of the biggest positives from the game flew under the radar due to the nature of the win and its importance to the title race. However, it didn’t escape my attention that Salah was beaming both after his own goal and his assist for VVD’s.
I of course never expected the media to come out and admit that they were fanning the flames of an issue that likely never existed for weeks by promoting the idea that Salah was unhappy and therefore wasn’t celebrating his goals. However, they have at least dropped their agenda that Salah’s somehow having a terrible season.
All fans could see he wasn’t quite at his best before, but he was still getting in the right positions, still creating chances for himself and others, still causing defences major headaches, and most importantly, still scoring goals. He’s top of the charts in the League right now, and that’s not just thanks to a few good weeks, that’s down to a classy player who’s dangerous even when he’s not playing up to his own lofty standards.
Woah, We’re Halfway There
Or at least, very nearly halfway there. The point being that while it’s great that everyone around the club is buzzing and the fans and players are feeling confident, it’s important not to let our feet get too far off of the ground, there’s still a long hard road ahead.
A lot is made in the media of the statistical fact that usually the team on top at Christmas is the team that goes on to lift the Premier League trophy in May, but nothing is guaranteed, and certainly nothing is won in December.
Klopp and his men (apart from perhaps Lovren who’s predicted an unbeaten season) are adamant that they’re only taking things one game at a time. There’s no reason people can’t get excited or dream about what may come, but perhaps some of us fans would do well by taking the same approach. It’d certainly make each game less anxiety-inducing… Who am I kidding? Anxiety and Liverpool fans are inseparable forces!
As this is likely to be my last piece before Christmas, I’d just like to thank all the FOAR readers, and especially those of you who follow me on social media and engage in discussion down in the comment section. I always look forward to reading the comments from other fans’ for their takes on the game, players, manager, and club in general. Thank you for making me feel very welcome in my first season on FOAR.
You’ll Never Walk Alone