Liverpool earned their second Premier League victory in eight games on Monday night, as Diogo Jota came back to haunt his former club with his first goal since his recovery.
Wolves 0-1 Liverpool
Premier League (29), Molineux
March 15, 2021
Goals: Jota 45+2′
For only the second time this season, Jurgen Klopp named a side unchanged from the last game, having also only done so on five occasions throughout the entirety of the previous campaign.
The objective was consistency, and there was an element of that in there being another slow start from the Reds, with misplaced passes stifling any tempo – particularly in midfield, where Thiago struggled.
There was a boost, though, in the growing fluency of Nat Phillips, Ozan Kabak and Fabinho as a defensive triangle, with Kabak looking strong again in his role as the left-sided centre-back.
Perhaps that is where a lack of changes will most benefit Liverpool, of course, with Klopp’s pre-match comments having underlined the importance of stability in finding defensive strength.
Kabak and Phillips have now kept clean sheets in each of their three starts together, and while this one came against a toothless Wolves who have scored 28 times in 29 league games so far, it is clear their partnership is blossoming.
A first-half goal!
Another rarity, then, as for only the second time in their last 14 Premier League games, Liverpool were able to find the back of the net before the end of the first half.
As with Roberto Firmino‘s strike against Tottenham in January, it came in stoppage time as Diogo Jota converted an excellent move begun by Phillips’ header and seeing the whole front three combine.
? Liverpool’s 1st half goals scored in last 14 PL games
v Newcastle ?
v Southampton ?
v Man Utd ?
v Burnley ?
v Tottenham ? (45+4)
v West Ham ?
v Brighton ?
v Man City ?
v Leicester ?
v Everton ?
v Sheffield Utd ?
v Chelsea ?
v Fulham ?
v Wolves ? (45+2)
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) March 15, 2021
It looked a relief for the Reds as they swarmed the 24-year-old in celebration, with this decidedly difficult run clearly taking a psychological toll on the champions.
Will it lead to a turnaround in fortunes? It remains to be seen, but as James Milner explained after the defeat to Fulham last time out in the league, “it’s a break that you need, a little bit of magic.”
That the magic came from a former Wolves player was fitting, and perhaps given the impact he has had since making the move, unsurprising.
Jota picks up where he left off
Ahead of the game, Nuno Espirito Santo was effusive in his praise for Jota, saying “what Diogo did with us was amazing, fantastic, beyond words,” and offering his former player “a big, big hug and eventually a kiss.”
Jota became a favourite at Molineux as he was able to combine the cutting edge that has seen him score 10 in 21 games since joining Liverpool with the relentless application on and off the ball required of the very top players.
It has been just three starts since the Portuguese’s three-month absence, and he looks hellbent on making up for lost time in the Reds’ attack.
While some did not come off, there was a purpose to every touch and an urgency to his forward play that has been so lacking for much of the campaig in the player he has taken over from, Firmino.
His combination play with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane is hugely encouraging, with it now two goals in two games in which all three have contributed, which is a positive sign moving forward.
Thiago gets lost in the shuffle
Thiago looked closer to the player Liverpool fans had anticipated on his arrival from Bayern Munich as he shone in the 2-0 victory over RB Leipzig in midweek, and in a post-match interview he reflected this in his own disappointment at what had come before.
“I myself am not happy with how I have played since I joined Liverpool,” he revealed.
“New club, new environment. I had a serious injury, I needed to get back to the pace of the match. But this is not an excuse.”
With Fabinho restored to the No. 6 role and the injury issues long behind him, there were no excuses for the slack, sloppy display he produced before being withdrawn on 67 minutes at Molineux.
The only decision Klopp really had to make in preparing his lineup for the trip to the Midlands was whether to rotate his midfield, and on this evidence, it seemed a shakeup may have been wise.
The perfect tonic
A win’s a win, and three points at Molineux serve as the ideal result before Liverpool take a three-week break for internationals, rest and training.
The Reds are not in action again until Easter Sunday, at Arsenal, by which point groups of six can meet outdoors again and five-a-side can be played across the country at long last.
Head into that interval having suffered yet another Premier League loss and it could have been a death knell to Liverpool’s morale, but now it can provide inspiration for a final flurry.
Klopp’s fingers will be crossed that, of those who do embark on international duty, none will return with fitness issues, and that his work at Kirkby will benefit those who remain on Merseyside.
Three weeks off, then Arsenal, Aston Villa, Leeds, Newcastle and Man United all to come in a month, along with the all-important matter of a Champions League quarter-final.
Bring it on. And get well soon, Rui Patricio!