By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool travel to Wolverhampton to kick off their FA Cup campaign at Molineux on Monday evening. The Reds visited just before Christmas, winning 2-0 thanks to goals from Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk.
Both sides head into this game on the back of defeats – Liverpool narrowly losing 2-1 to Premier League defending champions Manchester City, while Wolves surprisingly lost 2-0 to Crystal Palace.
Last season both clubs failed to make it past the Fourth Round of the competition. Liverpool lost a 3-2 to West Brom in a match that was filled with mayhem thanks to VAR. Wolves lost 2-1 to Swansea in a replay after the first match ended 0-0.
Liverpool were on the receiving end of a loss for the first time in the league this season, losing to Manchester City. Meaning the points between the two clubs is now only four points.
Jurgen Klopp’s side were unlucky to lose the game, playing well in large spells should have seen the Reds’ come away with a point. Ultimately Man City showed they have been in this position multiple times and their experience showed, managing the game exceptionally.
Before that Liverpool won nine on the bounce, despite losing their last game Liverpool didn’t perform no where near their potential, it seemed as if our opposition did and the way in which they celebrated their victory not only shows how far this team has come since that eventful day in Stoke three-and-a-half years ago but can also be used as a catalyst in the hunt for the title.
Wolves have dropped off in recent week, perhaps taking part of the hectic fixture period for the first time is having an effect. Despite beating a jaded Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley, they currently sit in ninth place,
During the month of December, they played in six matches and won half, including victories against Chelsea and the aforementioned Tottenham. They started off with consecutive victories, though since they have picked up just four points from as many games.
These wins show that they are a force to be reckoned with, but they have dropped points to both Fulham and Cardiff both of which are relegation candidates.
With the squad they have they should be higher than ninth, arguably they have the best squad from any of the teams outside the top six. Liverpool were largely comfortable in our win a couple of weeks ago, but Monday’s match will be much more difficult.
Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo is expected to name a strong line-up, there are pretty much guaranteed to stay in the league next season, so the bonus of a cup run should increase the growing mood of belief around the club, what better way to start off than beating the league leaders.
Wolves have a handful of up and coming stars in their ranks, some of which should be considered in the starting line-up.
Rui Patricio should start and continue his fine form between the sticks. Ruben Vinagre, a young full back, should earn his fifth start this season, he has already made 10 appearances for the club in the League, six of which have come from the bench.
The usual back three of Conor Coady, Willy Boly and Ryan Bennett should complete a back three with Matt Doherty completing what is a very hard-working defensive quintuplet.
Morgan Gibbs-White should start after impressing in his recent outings for the club, the 18-year-old has made 14 appearances in the league this season and has looked the part.
A start alongside the experienced Joao Moutinho should do the teenager the world of good.
In attack Adama Traore should be joined alongside Raul Jimenez and Ivan Cavaleiro.
Jurgen Klopp is expected to make a host of changes to his starting XI. Players like Alisson, Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah are all expected to be rested for the game.
Simon Mignolet will make his second appearance of the season, starting behind a potential back four of Alberto Moreno, Virgil van Dijk, Dejan Lovren and James Milner.
Due to the lack of fit centre backs at the club both Van Dijk and Lovren will probably start, though it would be nice to see one of Nat Phillips and Conor Masterson both of whom are highly though of at the club to earn their first competitive start for the club.
Naby Keita and Fabinho might start alongside each other for the first time as Jurgen Klopp reverts to a 4-2-2-2 formation. Adam Lallana and Xherdan Shaqiri will start out wide but will roam into the middle to allow our full-backs to run into space.
A the top of the pitch, we may see Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge – recent rumours on Twitter, however, have linked Origi with a move out of the club. If a move was to accelerate, Rafa Camacho could start in a three behind Sturridge.
One to watch: Morgan Gibbs-White
Morgan Gibbs-White is highly thought of in English football, having come through the Wolves academy which he joined when he was eight, he has started to make a name for himself in the Premier League. Deployed mainly in centre midfield, he can also play in more attacking roles, behind the striker or out wide on the left.
He is a very skilful, technical player. On the ball he is one of the finest balanced young players coming through the ranks now. His passing is his strong point, providing the assist which lead to the winning goal in a recent victory vs Chelsea.
One thing that may hamper his development at reaching the pinnacle of football is his weak foot. Many academies now focus on making sure their players try and use both their feet to become as accomplished as possible and its surprising to see how little the English u21 international uses his left foot given how early he started playing football.
The young midfielder is expected to start against Liverpool, with the likelihood of facing both Fabinho and Keita, he will have his work cut out for him. He will probably find it hard to get any time on the ball with both our midfielders excellent at closing down passing lanes and forcing mistakes.
In recent seasons, achieving top four and winning the FA Cup would be deemed as a successful season for the Reds. But, with our hunt for the title as well as being a part of the Champions League, I wouldn’t care if we exited at such an early stage.
Yes, it’s a fantastic trophy and would install a winner’s mentality to the club, but to prioritise it ahead of both the League and European competition would be just stupid.
Most big clubs in England who are involved in the title race often don’t make it far in the competition, the last team to win the competition while being involved in the title race was Chelsea nine years ago. The competition has lost its magic touch recently, teams competing for the top four only look to win the trophy to have a successful season.
Monday’s game will provide vital experience for young players and give the chance for fringe players to gain match fitness, something that might be important if any injuries were to occur. It will also give the chance to both Fabinho and Keita to work on their partnership, something Liverpool fans have longed to see since both players joined the club.
This match gives Klopp a free shot at naming the duo in a midfield, many fans wouldn’t be too disappointed if we exited the cup at such an early stage.
Wolves will cause us problems – the prospect of Moreno facing Traore isn’t one to look forward to. Virgil won’t be able to help the Spaniard on every occasion the winger dribbles past him, so the match result may hinge on the Wolves forward’s end product. He often doesn’t pick the right final ball, though he is still a very dangerous player.
The match will be finely balanced and will probably be won by a single goal, if we were to enter the final minute with the two teams’ level, we should seriously consider putting the ball in the back of our own net, I along with many other couldn’t be arsed dealing with a replay in what is already a hectic schedule.
For the sake of positivity, I think Liverpool will win by a goal to nil, a moment of magic from Naby being the difference between the two sides.
Final score: Wolves 0-1 Liverpool (Keita)