Liverpool continued their relatively good run in recent Premier League matches on Wednesday evening, beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0 at Anfield to book their third victory in the last four league matches. The goals were the work of Virgil van Dijk (73′) and Mohamed Salah (77′). Six minutes before the first goal, a strike by Darwin Nunez was ruled out by the VAR for an alleged foul by former Wolves attacker Diogo Jota in the buildup.
With Joel Matip being particularly off form in recent weeks and Joe Gomez absent, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp made a somewhat forced choice to put the freshly returned Ibrahima Konate straight into his starting XI, and playing alongside Van Dijk, the France international repaid the manager’s trust well. The centre-back pair were flanked by Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kostas Tsimikas, with Fabinho anchoring the midfield, Stefan Bajcetic staying relatively close to him between the boxes and Harvey Elliott the midfielder closest to the attacking line. It was Jota who spearheaded it through the middle, with Salah on the right and Nunez on the left.
Julen Lopetegui arranged his Wolves team in a 4-2-3-1 shape, with Max Kilman and Craig Dawson as the centre-back pair, Hugo Bueno on the left and Nelson Semedo on the right. Mario Lemina joined Ruben Neves in the middle of the park, with the trio of Joao Moutinho, reported Liverpool target Matheus Nunes and Pablo Sarabia playing just behind striker Raul Jimenez.
Liverpool dominated a large part of the game, but nothing much happened in the first 45 minutes. Alisson Becker in the Liverpool goal made a fine save to deny Moutinho early on, Pablo Sarabia and Elliott both failed to direct their respective close-range headers on target, the young Liverpool midfielder had a fine 18-yard effort saved by Wolves ‘keeper Jose Sa, but that was about it when it came to either side threatening the opposition goal.
The home side turned up the volume after the restart, and they appeared to have been rewarded in the 67th minute when Jota burst into the box to find Nunez on his left, and the Uruguayan striker hit the back of the net in front of the Kop. But as the Reds celebrated, their opponents protested and eventually, referee Paul Tierney was instructed by the VAR (Stuart Attwell) to check the situation on the pitch-side screen. Having seen the replay, Tierney agreed with Attwell and ruled the goal out for a foul committed by Jota during his run.
But Liverpool could not be denied and it took only six minutes more for Jota to follow up Van Dijk’s attempt saved by Sa with a sharp cross from the left, and with Sa on the ground this time, the Netherlands captain was still there to head home from close range. Four minutes later, Tsimikas played a one-two with substitute Cody Gakpo and burst down the left flank, entered the box and pulled it back for Salah on the edge of six yards. The Egyptian made no mistake from there, scoring his 20th goal of 2022/23 and making it the sixth consecutive season with 20+ on his account.
In the end, that shot by Moutinho which Alisson saved early on remained the only effort from the visitors that hit the target, with three more going wide. At the other end, Liverpool took 15, six on target, and enjoyed 57% of possession. Stats rarely tell the full tale, but they frequently indicate the way the action unfolded. The home side deserved their win. Even Lopetegui admitted as much after the match.
It’s all about the points for these two teams at the current stage of the season. Their need in that aspect is considerable.
It has been a vastly underwhelming campaign for Liverpool, who have rarely looked like the team that played in three Champions League finals in the last five years and won one, the team that in the same period won the Premier League and finished just one point short twice, repeatedly pushing reigning champions Manchester City to the final matchday.
This season, Liverpool have largely been a mid-table side, with issues to resolve all over the pitch, at times incapable of beating anyone half-decent. Now, however, this relatively successful run has them creeping back up, to within sight of the top four again. Many had ruled them out of next season’s Champions League; now their appearance there in 2023/24 seems quite possible again.
Whatever may come afterwards, Liverpool are currently sixth with 39 points, six less than Tottenham Hotspur in fourth, with a game in hand on the North Londoners. Apart from Spurs, fifth-place Newcastle with the tally of 41 are obviously in that race too.
Meanwhile, Wolves have had a difficult season as well. They’ve obviously improved since the appointment of Julen Lopetegui as the manager in November, but they’re still only three points above Everton who top the relegation zone after the Anfield defeat, with Leeds United and West Ham sitting in between.
Both Liverpool and Wolves have a lot of work to do between now and the end of the season to achieve their respective goals. Wolves do seem closer to it, though their aim of surviving in the Premier League obviously brings a different level of competition to the race compared to Liverpool’s wish to finish in the top four and play in the Champions League.
Speaking at his press conference after the match, Klopp said he still believed that Nunez’s goal should’ve stood. There can be no doubt that Jota caught Kilman there, but there is the question of it being forced from him by Semedo’s push from the other side. It appears to have been one of those situations where the referee is allowed a free pass with his decision as it mostly depends on how he sees and interprets the incident.
There were also question marks around Tierney’s decision to book Fabinho for a foul on Lemina in the 53rd minute, coming from both sides this time. The Wolves side of the story is that the Brazilian should’ve been sent off for getting his studs into Lemina’s leg, while the Liverpool supporters were quick to point out that it was indeed Lemina whose reckless tackle sparked the situation in the first place. In all honesty, both sides make some good points. If Tierney felt that what Fabinho did was a deliberate stamp on Lemina, it really should’ve been a red card. If not, it’s a foul by Lemina and a nailed-on booking for the Wolves midfielder, rather than the other way around.
English referees have been criticized all over the world for years for getting all sorts of calls wrong, big and small, and Tierney appears to be at the top of that list in the last couple of seasons. Darren England and David Coote are not far behind, nor is Attwell, who sat in the VAR room for this one.