Liverpool face a taxing trip to Wolves on Thursday evening, with Nuno Espirito Santo’s side out to end the Reds’ incredible unbeaten run.
Ahead of the game, we spoke to Wolves Bite editor, and former Wolves correspondent for the Express & Star, Tim Nash (@TimNash_1) to get his thoughts on the season to date and how Thursday’s clash could pan out.
Wolves are sixth in the Premier League – how pleased are you with the season so far?
After finishing seventh last season, I think most Wolves fans were hoping they could maintain that form this time, but tempered by the thought that their Europa League commitments might affect Premier League results.
Thankfully, that hasn’t happened and they are sixth, with two more points than they had at the same stage last season.
You can tell in their play that while teams are working them out more, they have built on last season and are continuing to come up with ways to win.
What is also so heartening is their spirit and commitment. They have won more points from losing positions—17—than any other team in the league.
What has been the key to Wolves’ success under Nuno?
There are several reasons. The investment under owners Fosun has been key to start with—they have broken the club transfer record five times in their three-and-a-half years of ownership since buying the club from Steve Morgan.
Key to that has been spending wisely on the right players to progress the club, with players such as Rui Patricio, Willy Boly, Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho, Jonny, Adama Traore, Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota.
The coaching and management of Nuno has also improved certain players significantly, such as Traore, Conor Coady and Matt Doherty.
Another key is having an identity. He has had a settled system of playing since day one.
He has played three at the back since his arrival and will never deviate from that, no matter what the opposition, so all the players from academy upwards play the same 3-4-3 system.
This sometimes becomes 3-5-2, or, for the first time in the second half at Southampton, 3-4-1-2.
A further key is fitness. The smallest squad in the league have remained largely injury-free, despite playing more games than any other team.
The Liverpool game will be their 40th of the season, in all competitions.
Boly’s broken ankle is the only long-term injury they have had all season, after having no serious injuries in 2018/19.
Which players have stood out most this season?
Thankfully for Wolves fans that’s a difficult question, as like Liverpool, there are a few.
I suppose we should start with Traore, because there is now so much attention on him.
He has gone from what some fans described as a headless chicken last season to one of the most feared and dangerous players in the Premier League.
Recognised as the fastest footballer in the world, he has harnessed his speed so his brain and feet have caught up with his body and he has become far more effective.
Two more assists in Saturday’s 3-2 win at Southampton made it nine for the season in 34 appearances, plus five goals, as opposed to three assists and one goal in 36 games last season.
A total of 27 players have been booked for fouls on him.
Jimenez shows his importance by the fact he’s been involved in 27 goals this season, with 19 himself, in all competitions.
His finishing, holdup play, work rate and defending from the front are so important to the way they play.
Coady is Mr Consistent at sweeper, wing-backs Doherty and Jonny provide consistency and energy down the flanks, while Moutinho can dictate games with his passing.
How is former Liverpool man Coady faring?
The Liverpool game will be Coady’s 97th consecutive league game if selected, which is a testimony to his levels of consistency.
He has been outstanding since being switched to sweeper by Nuno at the start of the 2017/18 season, and is the starting point for many attacks with his quick, long-range, pinpoint passes to the wing-backs.
He also reads the game really well, though, and is often well-placed to block or intercept crosses and shots.
As the most vocal player in the team, he is also a captain who leads by example and is hugely respected by team-mates and fans alike.
How highly do you rate this Reds side among the best of the Premier League era?
Statistically this season, they measure alongside the very best, not just in the Premier League era but the Football League too.
Assuming they win their first Premier League title this season, they will compare to the great Liverpool teams of the past, especially given they are European and world champions as well.
What do you think is the key to their success?
When you look at Liverpool’s perceived weaknesses in recent seasons, it was always said to be the goalkeeper and the centre-backs.
Alisson has ironed out an occasional tendency to hold onto the ball and Van Dijk has to be one of the best in his position in the world—he doesn’t seem to have any flaws to his game.
Patience and belief in Klopp has been important too; like Nuno, he has been allowed to build his squad over several years and the club is now reaping the rewards.
I also think they are a real team. If you compare them to Arsenal‘s ‘Invincibles’, Thierry Henry was so important to the Gunners, but it seems all of Liverpool’s players are of a similar level.
The Reds also have a way of playing like no other team—it’s like they have come from outer space at times, or have too many players on the pitch!
They seem to swamp the opposition when they haven’t got the ball, then break with such power, pace and numbers that they break teams down.
Who do you fear most for Liverpool on Thursday?
Liverpool have threats all over the pitch.
Van Dijk is so dangerous in both boxes and the delivery from wide areas is so deadly, then there is the flair and finishing of Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, and the less-publicised but highly effective work in midfield of Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum.
But for me, Mohamed Salah always catches the eye—I love the way he makes it look so easy, cutting inside on his left foot to either set himself up him or a team-mate.
His goal return is phenomenal, so I would have to go with Salah.
Where will the key battles take place?
Well, Wolves‘ back three of Leander Dendoncker, Coady and Romain Saiss against Liverpool’s deadly attacking trio has to be the main one.
Wolves are somehow going to have to stop those if they are going to have any chance of getting something from the game.
I also wonder if Nuno is going to play three in midfield to prevent Neves and Moutinho being outnumbered in there.
I am looking forward to seeing Robertson against Traore—that promises to be an intriguing battle.
Mind you, if Nuno decides to play three in midfield, it’s likely to be Jimenez and Traore up front, so Traore could come up against Van Dijk.
Now there’s a prospect.
Finally, hit us with your prediction…
Liverpool look like they’re unstoppable and they could go a full season unbeaten, like Arsenal in 2003/04.
Having remained unbeaten against the established top six over the last 18 months, Wolves won’t be intimidated by Liverpool.
Such is the quality of the opposition, however, I think the best they can hope for is a draw, so I’m going for 1-1.