Liverpool came through an incredibly difficult test at Molineux to record yet another win, 2-1 this time over Wolves in the Premier League.
Wolves 1-2 Liverpool
Premier League, Molineux
January 23, 2020
Goals: Jimenez 50′; Henderson 8′, Firmino 84′
From all-action to all-rounder
Box-to-box, holding mid, goalscorer extraordinaire. Possibly not extraordinaire, not with two for the season, but it was a very timely intervention from the skipper to pop up with a header (or a shoulder) and get the Reds on the front foot.
Of course, Henderson’s not really in the team to be on the end of moves, he’s there to disrupt them from the other team – and once again he was exceptional in this regard.
Henderson continually picked up the loose pieces, won challenges, directed his team-mates off the ball and ensured there was cover all over the park.
It’s not to say he was necessarily Liverpool’s best player on the night—Alisson and Joe Gomez both staked claims for that particular accolade—but he played a vital role and did his job superbly.
Henderson’s form and confidence is sky high and the captain is leading us to glory once again.
One of the most relentless and difficult opponents to face this season for any Premier League defence, Adama Traore provided an exhibition in how to be the focal point of a team’s attack and be non-stop and direct without diverting away from the skill-set he has in the slightest.
Traore was awarded Man of the Match by UK TV, but in truth this felt more down to the number of times he was the outlet and in possession, rather than because he was magical and hugely productive all game long.
Most of the time, while Liverpool struggled to contain the former Barcelona man, they did do well with his deliveries, with the centre-backs clearing the majority of his 10 crosses.
Van Dijk cut out his clips and cut-backs on at least six occasions—three with his head, three with his feet—while Gomez also got on the end of a couple to clear the lines.
Andy Robertson had a bit of a torrid night due to Traore always getting the ball, and perhaps he was tired when he cost the Reds a goal: poor position to start with, poor decision to step forward and tackle and certainly a poor execution of that challenge, which left the Reds totally open and skewed on the cover.
That meant Traore’s assist, but thereafter his impact was once more minimal until the very last moment of the game, when Wolves skied their big chance for 2-2.
Minamino’s Premier League debut
It came with Sadio Mane coming off injured, which is a big negative, but we did finally get to see Takumi Minamino in the Premier League.
One beautiful early flick over a defender’s head showed his awareness and technique, but he came on at a time when the Reds were largely concerned with controlling the game and getting to the break.
After the restart it was quickly apparent that he and Oxlade-Chamberlain had switched sides, perhaps with the intent of replicating the pace down that left flank which Sadio Mane usually provides, but with the Reds in more of a 4-4-2 shape off the ball.
A difficult start to the second half saw a lot of running and not much else for the Japanese attacker, but one snap-shot forced Rui Patricio into a save on the hour mark.
Mostly it was simply apparent that he has more work to do to acclimatise to the Jurgen Klopp way of playing, much as Ox, Fabinho and others have had to.
One mitigating factor must be noted though: Other than perhaps playing Man City, it could hardly have been a more tricky introduction for the new No. 18—a Merseyside derby alongside plenty of youngsters, and the toughest test the Reds have faced in a long time.
Biggest test of 2020
Little doubt in the minds of players and fans, that this fixture was the most difficult one that Liverpool have had to get through in ages, perhaps since Man City came to Anfield.
Adama Traore was a big part of it, but not the only part; set-piece delivery was good, the wing-backs pushed on constantly and the runners from deep—Neto, Doherty, later Jota—often caused problems on the second balls after crosses.
The Reds didn’t enjoy possession and territorial dominance the way they usually do and weren’t able to constantly counter-attack, especially after losing Mane’s pace.
But, even so, this incredible team once more found a way to win.
Bobby Firmino’s clever footwork and 10th away goal of the season lands a massive three points, and inflicted what must be a hugely demoralising and deflating blow to other clubs who were hoping for a few dropped points.
Cup and game in hand
Sixteen points clear again, count them. 22 wins from 23 games. Count them, too.
40 games unbeaten, now the joint second-longest ever in Premier League history and nine short of Arsenal‘s record. Count them down.
Now it’s time to take a short break and plan two different teams: one for the FA Cup, one to finally take care of that pesky game in hand against West Ham next week.
It’ll be a hectic time again now for the Reds, but only for a few short weeks until the winter break, so keeping the relentless form going is critical.
Hopefully, too, another warm body or two might boost Jurgen Klopp‘s options; James Milner and Naby Keita should be reasonably close to returns, while Xherdan Shaqiri will presumably be called upon at some point, too.
The biggest hope of all will be that Mane’s injury is not too serious, and these next couple of matches, at least, are ones the Reds should be able to come through without him in any case.
Another test down and the Reds keep marching on.
Liverpool could lose six of their remaining 15 games and still win the title… the suggestion, Klopp said post-match makes him “feel sick.” They won’t lose six and they might not lose any…