Preview: Wolverhampton Wanderers – Liverpool
Liverpool’s season to date has been, arguably, the best in living memory. To come through 20 games unbeaten in an increasingly competitive Premier League is a testament to the quality and mental strength of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool team.
Facing Manchester City at the Etihad promised to be a tough fixture and it proved just that. On another day, Ederson scores that own-goal. Hell, with another ref, Kompany would’ve been off. But it wasn’t to be. Now Liverpool face a new task this season: to bounce back and do so in style.
The F.A Cup fixture against Wolverhampton Wanderers presents the perfect opportunity to show our progress.
In late January 2017, a weakened Liverpool side faced a Conor Coady inspired Wolves team in an F.A Cup fourth round fixture at Anfield. It’d been a tough month for the Reds, with only one victory in their eight fixtures and first-half goals by Stearman and Weimann for Wolves compounded a miserable month for Liverpool. Origi pulled a late goal back, but Klopp’s difficult relationship with the F.A Cup continued and the Reds ambled out of England’s historic competition.
Fast forward a couple of years and things couldn’t be more different for the two clubs. Wolves have now been promoted and their season is going fantastically. The West-Midlands team are 13 points clear of relegation and may be looking to see if they can qualify for Europe – be it through league position, or, more optimistically, through the F.A Cup.
Liverpool, meanwhile, are back to where they belong: challenging for the league and established in Europe. Klopp’s squad is immeasurably stronger and lacks the defensive and mental fragility of times gone by.
For many fans, pre Manchester City, the F.A Cup was seen as a poison chalice, an unwanted distraction. Not all, but a substantial number, of Liverpool fans would happily see them meekly surrender to focus on bigger, more lucrative competitions.
But fortunately, it’s unlikely that Klopp will see it that way.
His biggest criticism to date is a lack of trophies, something that can provide a sense of tangibility to Liverpool’s clear progression. That, alongside Liverpool’s first Premier League loss of the season, will likely lead Klopp to play a stronger team than many would presume.
The line-up and questions for Klopp
Alisson will undoubtedly have his feet up back in Liverpool for this fixture, with Mignolet deputising. It’s a brilliant opportunity for the perfectly amiable Belgian to showcase his talents and possibly sign-off his Liverpool career with a trophy.
With Clyne now leaving for Bournemouth, Liverpool are once again struggling in defensive positions. It seems likely that Moreno will come in for Robertson – despite the former’s undoubted aversion to not playing. But it’s the right-back spot that will be most interesting. Will Klopp stick with Trent? Or maybe he’ll shoehorn Camacho in despite recent links away from the club. Many want Van Dijk to be rested, but with limited squad depth and a desire to bounce back from their recent league loss, will the possible inclusion of Nat Phillips put Liverpool at risk of back-to-back losses in 2019?
Wholesale changes are to be expected in midfield and attack. Klopp will likely take the opportunity to give Keita, Lallana and Shaqiri a few more minutes, while Sturridge and Origi are the most likely candidates to lead the forward line.
In these fixtures, Klopp tends to start one of Mane, Salah or Firmino, so who seems the best choice? And how can Klopp ensure that the fixture doesn’t end up in a dreaded replay?
Liverpool’s last F.A Cup triumph was back in 2006, a final in which Steven Gerrard once again demonstrated that he was England and Liverpool’s best leader in recent history.
The Reds have reached many finals since and the F.A Cup remains a fantastic opportunity for the current crop of Reds to write a little bit of their own history.
At 7pm, when the starting XI is released, the strength of the Liverpool line-up will likely dictate how seriously we’ll take the Cup this season and I, for one, hope we go for it.
1. This will be the seventh FA Cup meeting between Wolves and Liverpool – Wolves have won four of the previous six, including the last such meeting in January 2017 (2-1 at Anfield).
2. Liverpool have been eliminated from five of their last seven FA Cup ties against fellow Premier League opponents.
3. Wolves are winless in their last six home FA Cup games (D2 L4), since beating Doncaster in a replay in round three in 2010-11.
4. Liverpool haven’t been knocked out at this stage of the FA Cup since the 2010-11 season, when they lost 0-1 against Man Utd.