Liverpool battled to an important win over Wolves, with Jürgen Klopp’s side ensuring a strange VAR call was not decisive. This is what we spotted from the game.
It almost seems redundant calling Liverpool games important at the minute, with each one massive in Jürgen Klopp’s unlikely quest to salvage a top-four spot. But sure enough, this clash against Wolves was once again massive, especially after dropping points in the last match.
Eventually, Klopp got the response for which he would have been hoping. Too often lackluster, Liverpool belatedly clicked into gear going forward, which was enough to see off the threat of Wolves — despite a controversial VAR decision.
Darwin Núñez was denied a goal, but Virgil van Dijk ultimately found a way through, before Mohamed Salah made sure of the win.
For the second time in just over a week, the left-back tasked with containing Mohamed Salah failed to make it to half time. For the second time, it probably worked against Liverpool.
In the Real Madrid game, David Alaba was turned inside and out by Salah before having to make way for Nacho. The replacement had far more joy in containing the Egyptian.
This time, it was Hugo Bueno of Wolves, who in turn made way for the highly-rated Rayan Aït-Nouri. Again, it seemed to make life harder for Salah — not to mention the Liverpool back line.
More offensively-minded, Aït-Nouri nearly came up with a difference-making moment of quality, producing an outrageous piece of improvisation right on the byline to get beyond Ibrahima Konaté, who was saved by a soft free-kick.
There was a time when the identity of the full-back didn’t seem to matter for Salah, and Liverpool will hope to see that lethal version of its number 11 resurface as soon as possible. But it was curious to see an enforced personnel change seemingly slow him down for the second time in quick succession.
VAR misses the point
Liverpool thought it had taken the lead through Darwin Núñez midway through the second half. It was an astute piece of finishing, but the build-up had all been about Diogo Jota.
The Portuguese star shot like an arrow through the Wolves defense, not slowing down even as he reached the box. The ball bundled into the path of Núñez, who placed it beyond the goalkeeper.
But that’s when VAR got involved. It was Jota who was penalized, supposedly for a foul on Max Kilman as he went to close down Núñez. A mightily slowed-down replay did indeed appear to potentially show the Liverpool man taking his counterpart’s foot from underneath him.
But it didn’t appear to occur to the VAR to check how Jota had ended up by the feet of Kilman. He would probably have pulled the trigger himself had he not been dragged to the ground, careering into the Wolves man as a result. If the assistant was intent on chalking off the goal for the ‘foul’, he surely had to go one step further back to give the penalty.
For much of the first half of the season, Harvey Elliott was one of the mainstays of the team-sheet. But his start here was something of a surprise, with the teenager not having made the XI much of late.
Only Klopp will know exactly what has changed to affect Elliott’s status in the last few months, but the general consensus is that the youngster remains somewhat lightweight for the defensive side of the midfield berth, routinely coming out on the wrong end of duels. The parallel emergence of the more conservative Stefan Bajčetić appears to back that up.
But it is worth focusing on the good things that Elliott brings to the team. Even in another fairly turgid team display, he was able to inject life into the right flank, with almost all of the threat coming from the trio he formed with Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
All possessed with an inclination to look forward, some neat interchanges prized open gaps in the Wolves defense. It was no coincidence that Salah looked like he had more space to attack then he has of late, with the threesome methodically working to create it.
It remains to be seen where on the pitch Elliott’s long-term future lies. But the way the right flank operated today made the midfield case for him.
Klopp weapon returns
There are no excuses for the sheer scale of Liverpool’s drop-off this season. But equally, there are mitigating factors that need to be acknowledged.
First and foremost, much like the 2020/21 campaign, this has been an injury-hit season. The absence of any senior center-backs in that year appeared to buy Liverpool a little more sympathy, but the loss of so many key attackers has had a similarly seismic impact.
That is still being felt, with Luis Díaz still out. But everyone else is back at last, and Klopp twice relied on his newfound depth. First, despite having been denied a starring role in the Núñez goal that never was, the newly-restored Jota was able to help break the deadlock. It was his pass back across goal that allowed Virgil van Dijk to finally open the scoring.
Then, Klopp summoned his reinforcements, and Cody Gakpo was key in putting the game to bed. A lovely little interchange with Kostas Tsimikas set the Greek full-back away, and his pull-back put it on a plate for Salah. It’s amazing how much easier things are with almost a full complement of world-class forwards.