By Matt Ramirez – @Matt_J_Ramirez
Liverpool ensured they were top of the table at Christmas after securing a 2-0 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers away at Molineux.
Mohamed Salah got the opening goal for the Reds, with Virgil van Dijk completing the scoring – notching his first goal for the club since his debut back in January against Everton in the FA Cup, and his first in the league for the Anfield club overall.
Jürgen Klopp made two changes following his sides 3-1 victory over Manchester United on Sunday. Jordan Henderson and James Milner returned to the starting line-up, with the skipper replacing Gini Wijnaldum as Fabinho’s midfield partner, and the No. 7 replacing Nathaniel Clyne at right-back.
Neither side were on top in the opening 10 minutes, however, the Wolves game plan was clear to see. Nuno Espirito Santo’s newly promoted side had picked up the most points against the ‘top six’ sides than any other team in the league, so clearly the Portuguese manager knew how to set up his squad – pressing high, defending as a unit, and counter-attacking quickly to best utilise the pace of Adama Traoré.
Despite their tough defensive line, the home side couldn’t keep out the high-flying Liverpool side for long. Looking to build on a brilliant display and assist on Sunday, Fabinho was at it again, helping Liverpool take the lead in the 18th minute.
After winning possession back on the edge of the Wolves box, the Brazilian played the ball to Sadio Mané before bursting into the box and receiving it in space. The ‘defensive-midfielder’ found himself unmarked and with time on his hands, lifting his head before drilling a first-time pass across goal for an unmarked Salah to tap into the net.
The Egyptian now takes his tally to 11 in the Premier League, taking him clear of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at the summit of the league’s top goal-scorers chart.
The goal seemed to stun the Wolverhampton side, who took the better part of 15 minutes to adjust their style of play to begin threatening the Liverpool back line. Their first attempt on target since going behind came in the form of left back Jonny Otto.
The flying full back latched onto a ball that found its way through Dejan Lovren’s legs, but fortunately for the Croat, Alisson saved comfortably.
Minutes later, the Reds had to call on their Brazilian keeper yet again, following a misjudged pass by Naby Keita towards the end of the half. The Guinean fed Andrew Robertson short, gifting it to the advancing Matt Doherty who again tested the goalkeeper, this time at his near post. Alisson proved to be more than up to the task, catching the powerful shot expertly, as he helped Klopp’s men hang on for the rest of the half.
Despite seeming to lose control of the game towards the end of the first half, Liverpool looked much more assured and more themselves at the start of the second. Following Klopp’s half-time team talk, the Reds came out looking more structured both on and off the ball, whilst also playing patiently in their build-up play – something which has become a fixture of this season, as opposed to the ‘heavy metal’ tactics of seasons past.
The patient play had been working so far this season, and it worked again in the 68th minute. A short corner to Adam Lallana saw the returning Englishman lay the ball off to Robertson who curled in a first-time cross. The ball was dealt with poorly by the Wolves defence, who head it straight out to Salah in acres of space.
The Egyptian took a touch to control the dropping ball before picking out van Dijk who made it 2-0, volleying it past a helpless Rui Patricio. The goal is the Dutchman’s first in the Premier League for Liverpool, and his second overall for the club.
Apart from a few half chances towards the last quarter for the home side, Liverpool looked comfortably in control since going two ahead, and managed the game out until the full-time whistle. Despite not putting in a five-star performance, Klopp will be more than happy with the three points in this hectic Christmas period as his side go four points clear at the top of the league.
One negative for Liverpool to take from the result however is yet another addition to their ever-growing injury list. Having lost the trio of Joe Gomez, Trent-Alexander Arnold and Joel Matip earlier in the month, Klopp now looks as if he might need to contend without Keita as the Guinean was forced off midway through the second half after pulling up clutching the top of his thigh.
Having now played half of their games this season, Liverpool still remain unbeaten with 15 wins and three draws. Their next fixture sees them take on Newcastle at Anfield, and will see Klopp and his rampant Reds look to earn win number 16 in the Premier League.