The good, the bad & Mane’s importance – Debating Wolves 1-2 Liverpool

Liverpool dug deep once more to seal another impressive win, with plenty to discuss from a dramatic night at Molineux.

This had felt like a sticky fixture, especially after how well Wolves played at Wolves only a few weeks ago, with many supporters more concerned about it than clashes with Tottenham and Man United.

Predictably, it proved to be one of Liverpool’s toughest games of the season, but the Reds got over the finish line yet again.

Jordan Henderson headed the visitors in front, but Raul Jimenez finished off a slick counter-attacking move to level matters in the second half.

Liverpool rode their luck, with Alisson twice making important saves, before Roberto Firmino buried a finish with six minutes remaining.

Here, Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) is joined by fellow This Is Anfield contributors Karl Matchett (@karlmatchett) and Matt Ladson (@mattladson) to discuss the positives and negatives from the game, as well as who replaces the injured Sadio Mane.


The good…

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 23, 2020: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson celebrates after the FA Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers FC and Liverpool FC at Molineux Stadium. Liverpool wom 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

KARL: Despite the general adulation towards Wolves‘ one-method plan of attack from the TV commentary, I thought Liverpool largely dealt well with Adama Traore’s threat and delivery.

Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez cleared almost everything, the one exception being where Andy Robertson‘s error led to the back-line being stretched and out of place for the goal.

Both centre-backs made perhaps one error of judgement in the game each, but along with Alisson, were largely exceptional again.

Henderson also got through lots of work in the middle to win second balls and make sure we didn’t get overrun.

Other good points are another late goal (nice to see we haven’t lost that knack), Takumi Minamino getting his Premier League debut (really tough start) and the rest of the league being utterly deflated (up the ‘Unbearables’) once more.

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 23, 2020: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk celebrates his side's opening goal during the FA Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers FC and Liverpool FC at Molineux Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

HENRY: I agree with Karl that the adulation for Wolves was over-the-top, even though they were excellent in the second half.

Liverpool were still the better team for chunks of the game and the winning mentality they now have is unlike anything I have ever seen in a Reds team.

I thought Henderson was Man of the Match for a second game in a row – he really has been exceptional since Fabinho got injured in November.

Since his goal at home to Tottenham, he hasn’t looked back, proving to be his side’s best player over the winter, in my opinion.

Van Dijk and Gomez were also superb, as Karl says, while Alisson‘s influence shouldn’t go unnoticed. He just makes everything look so easy.

Then there’s Firmino, who has such a knack for scoring big goals, rather than lots of them. What a finish that was.

MATT: That was some introduction to the Premier League for Minamino, he might not face such a tough game for a while!

Henderson was superb again, Gomez is now undoubtedly the best English centre-back in the country and the ideal partner for Van Dijk, and Firmino should never be doubted with yet another vital, match-winning goal.


The bad…

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 23, 2020: Liverpool's Sadio Mané goes down injured during the FA Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers FC and Liverpool FC at Molineux Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

KARL: I understood the switch to 4-4-2 but I don’t think it worked well with Minamino right and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain left.

It was a little too stretched and we didn’t have the pace for outlets down the channels in behind their full-backs – going direct more often probably would have been the better option during that 25 minutes where we struggled in the second half.

Fabinho‘s presence certainly helped more than his passing – let’s leave it at that as he’s just back from injury!

Then there was Mohamed Salah‘s shooting. Twice he should have arguably set up teammates rather than taking it on himself; you can understand it happening on some occasions, but twice in a row and not finding the target with either effort is frustrating.

Worst of all was Mane’s injury.

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 23, 2020: Wolverhampton Wanderers' Raúl Jiménez (L) and Liverpool's Andy Robertson during the FA Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers FC and Liverpool FC at Molineux Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

HENRY: I totally agree with Karl that the use of Minamino didn’t work – he tried his best but didn’t look comfortable on the right.

Andy Robertson had his worst game of the season, and while Traore’s performance has to give him some leeway, he is in a noticeable slump by his high standards.

I also agree about Salah, who has been Liverpool’s most infuriating player this season.

He is absolutely brilliant, without question, but he is also far too greedy at times, which simply isn’t acceptable when teammates are in great positions.

There’s being a born goalscorer with a ruthless edge, and there’s just being plain greedy.

Mane’s injury is an obvious blow, too, considering he has been Liverpool’s outstanding performer this season.

MATT: The half-time change to 4-4-2 was bizarre. Klopp doesn’t often get it wrong tactically thesedays but he certainly did there. It left Oxlade-Chamberlain covering in front of Robertson against Traore.

We only regained control once we went back to 4-3-3, and then further when Fabinho came on. That we did get the game back under our control is a positive, but that was probably the first bad tactical change from us for a long time.

Henry speaks of Robertson there and I think Milner’s injury hasn’t helped there, meaning Robertson has been overplayed this past month. He needs a good rest.

Salah’s finishing was definitely bad, not just in its final shot but often the decision to shoot also. I genuinely can’t remember the last time I watched a game and thought afterwards that he played especially well. Another who could use a game or two rest.


…and who replaces Mane?

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 23, 2020: Liverpool's Takumi Minamino during the FA Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers FC and Liverpool FC at Molineux Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

KARL: In all honesty, we’ve just about got to the stretch of games where it shouldn’t be as much of an issue that one of the front three is missing.

Mane wouldn’t play against Shrewsbury Town anyway and we can afford to sideline him for West Ham, Southampton and Norwich and still be confident of picking up results.

Add in the two-week break and hopefully he will have plenty of time to recover before Atletico Madrid.

That being said, it should be an opportunity for Minamino (cup), Origi (West Ham) and possibly even Curtis Jones (at least as a substitute) to push their claims, though I imagine we will also see Oxlade-Chamberlain there at some point.

The nice thing is that we don’t need to allocate one specific player to fill the void – let form and end product dictate who should get the minutes.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, January 11, 2020: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino (L) and Divock Origi celebrate after the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Liverpool won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

HENRY: Karl is right – there are so many options now that several players will audition for the role in training.

The fact that Liverpool have such a big lead also means the Reds don’t need to rush Mane back, so there shouldn’t be too much panic surrounding his injury.

I would probably go with Origi for the next two matches – he deserves some game time after what he has done over the past 12 months or so.

He is the most similar to Mane in terms of the pace and directness he brings, rather than Minamino’s silkiness and Oxlade-Chamberlain never looking happy out wide.

I expect Klopp to rotate who plays on the left, though.

MATT: I think the game definitely showed Mane’s importance, we looked far less of a threat on the counter-attack with him off.

Like Henry says, Origi is a more like-for-like replacement, but Klopp said afterwards that bringing him on would’ve been too attacking too early, so perhaps he doesn’t trust Origi with the defensive side.

Thankfully it doesn’t look like a bad injury and it might only mean him missing two, perhaps three games. Given the lack of rest he had last summer, a muscle injury for Mane at some stage this season was probably inevitable.