Liverpool will top the table on Christmas day after the victory over Wolves extended their lead over Manchester City to four points. It could be third-time lucky for the Reds with the previous two occasions they’ve lead the Premier League on December 25th ending in second-place finishes.
The home side started brightly with Adama Traoré making the most of a Fabinho loose pass to fire into the side netting. However, the Brazilian made amends for that error after 18 minutes.
He exchanged passes with Sadio Mané on the right and fired the ball across the goal. It found a way to Mohamed Salah and the Egyptian expertly fired past Rui Patricio.
Wolves pressed for an equaliser and the referee ignored claims for a penalty when James Milner clipped Matt Doherty. The second half followed a similar pattern, with the Premier League leaders sloppy in possession, and with both teams looking to play on the break.
A nervy final half hour was made easier for Liverpool when Virgil van Dijk steered the ball home from close range like a seasoned poacher to score his first Premier League goal for the Reds.
Here are five things we learned from Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Liverpool.
Liverpool are title challengers
We’re just one game shy of the midway point of the Premier League season now and the Reds are yet to suffer defeat, the only team to able to boast such a stat. They’re four points clear at the summit, albeit Manchester City have a game in hand, and they’ve conceded just seven goals.
Jürgen Klopp’s men are averaging 2.1 goals per 90 minutes in the English top flight while conceding just 0.36. The current champions are being lauded for the number of goals they’re scoring, 2.8 per 90, but they’re conceding more, 0.58, and, more importantly, they’ve picked up fewer points than Liverpool.
The 2008/09 title challenge was never a serious one with the Reds drawing too many matches. The 2013/14 push was built on a forward line scoring at an insane rate.
This one appears to the only sustainable one. With a resolute backline, a forward line which is the envy of most top clubs across Europe and a manager with a plan B.
Worst one-season wonder
Salah got off to a slow start this season with many neutrals questioning whether the Liverpool forward had been found out and it wasn’t too long before the ‘one-season wonder’ tag was being thrown around.
But his superb finish in the first half tonight was his 11th in the Premier League and his 14th in all competitions to go along with his five assists. It was his eighth goal in his last ten starts and he looks to be back to his very best.
The move from right-sided forward to No.9 hasn’t had a negative impact on his output either, a sign of a world-class player. As long as the Reds have Salah at their disposal they have a genuine game-changer and a match-winner in their XI. The difference-maker and the reason they’re in a title challenge.
Fabinho continues to impress…
The Brazilian midfielder put in a man-of-the-match performance against Manchester United last weekend and he followed it up with yet another impressive showing here against Wolves.
The Liverpool No.3 is a throwback to the box-to-box midfielders of the 00s. The sort to be able to do everything while being able to influence the game at both ends of the pitch.
The opening 45-minutes saw him make the second highest number of tackles, behind only Mané (4), while completing 88 per cent of his passes and chipping in with an assist. The run of play in the lead up to the opener was a throwback to his days as a right-back as he made an underlapping run into the penalty area, got to the byline and put a dangerous ball across the face of goal.
Liverpool have depth in midfield these days but none of them can do the job Fabinho does. And it’s becoming obvious as to why the Reds paid £40million to sign him from Monaco in the summer.
Naby Keita doesn’t
Keïta arrived on Merseyside this summer to much fanfare. The club signed him 12 months in advance, beating Barcelona and Bayern Munich to his signature, and was given the No.8 shirt last worn by Steven Gerrard.
His debut against West Ham United was as good as debuts go. He looked to have an understanding with the front three, he looked confident and decisive when in possession – something the Reds lacked last season.
But aside from a man-of-the-match showing against Burnley, he’s looked a shadow of his RB Leipzig self. Tonight, he hobbled off after 56 minutes and though he completed two dribbles, the 23-year-old didn’t look anywhere near his dynamic best.
It doesn’t help that he’s being played on the left side of the pitch. It limits what he’s able to do as he’s always going to look to cut inside. But even with that taken into account, he looks slightly off the pace and with serious competition for places, he’s going to have to step it up if he wants to keep his starting role.
Wolves on the prowl
For the first time this season, Liverpool looked ragged at times. There’s a reason so many top teams have struggled to beat Wolves and it’s because Nuno Espírito Santo is clever tactically, and he has a team that knows exactly what he wants.
They pressed Liverpool, they put players under pressure and though the Reds didn’t ever look properly rattled, they made a number of uncharacteristically sloppy mistakes. The home side created dangerous moments and tested Alisson throughout. The Brazilian shot-stopper didn’t have to pull off top-drawer saves but it felt like his busiest night since his summer move from Roma.