Wolves play host to Liverpool on Saturday as Premier League action returns after a brief break from domestic cup football. Loptegui’s side are 17th in the league and were beaten 3-0 by Manchester City last time out. The Spaniard has won twice in the 5 games so far in Premier League and has rejuvenated a struggling side as they look to gain momentum and steer clear of the relegation zone.
Liverpool on the other hand have also been a struggling side as the Reds find themselves in the 9th level on points with Chelsea with an extra game in hand. They were held by the Blues to a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge last time out in a game that saw them struggle in the first half but manage to hold on for a point against a spirited Graham Potter side. Klopp has a task at his hand as his side sit 10 points behind Manchester United who occupy the 4th and final Champions League spot and will need a great run of games to bounce back and get the season back on track beginning with the Saturday afternoon visit to the Molineux.
When & Where?
Date: 4th February 2023.
Time: 3:00 PM GMT.
Venue: Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton.
Referee: Paul Tierney.
Assistant Referees: Constantine Hatzidakis, Marc Perry.
Fourth Official: Matt Donohue.
VAR: Lee Mason.
Assistant VAR: Timothy Wood.
Wolves do not have any fresh injury concerns as they will yet again miss Pedro Neto, Sasa Kalajdzic, Chiquinho, and Boubacar Traore who are all nursing long-term injuries. There could be changes to the starting XI which started against Manchester City in the last game as Loptegui opted to sub off his starting trio of Adama Traore, Hwang Hee-chan, and Raul Jimenez. New signings Matheus Cunha and Pablo Sarabia could be in contention to start in attack against a depleted Liverpool defence.
Liverpool have had an injury crisis since the start of the season and Ibrahima Konate’s injury which will keep the Frenchman out for up to a month means Klopp will have 8 first-team players absent for the game against Wolves. The 23-year-old joins Virgil Van Dijk, Luis Diaz, Roberto Firmino, Nat Phillips, Diogo Jota, Arthur Melo, and Fabio Carvalho who will miss out on the trip to Wolves. It will be interesting to see whether academy player Bajcetic makes his second consecutive Premier League appearance in the middle of the midfield to compensate for the injuries or whether the German coach opts to go with the experience of Jordan Henderson alongside Thiago and Harvey Elliot.
Both sides head into the game with problems of their own as the hosts are still adapting to their new manager’s tactics while the visitors have an ongoing injury crisis. The two met each other in 2 FA Cup matches earlier this month after a Hwang Hee-chan equalizer saw the game end in a 2-2 draw which resulted in a 3rd round replay for both sides with the Reds emerging victorious 1-0.
Loptegui had his tactics spot on in the first game as he lined up his side in a 4-4-2 formation a change from his usual 4-3-3 system. The striking partnership of Goncalo Guedes and Raul Jimenez caused problems for the struggling Liverpool defence as the former even got himself on the scoresheet. Loptegui could opt to go with the same system and rotate his attack. Cunha and Guedes could start as a striking partnership with Pablo Sarabia and Daniel Podence playing on the wing. Wolves will have to be clinical in taking their chances against a weakened Liverpool defence and take advantage of set-piece situations as the Reds struggled to defend corners against Chelsea.
As for Liverpool, this is a must-win game given the situation they are in even though there is no positive news on the injury front. The signing of Cody Gakpo from PSV Eindhoven hasn’t gone as planned for the Dutchman and Klopp as the former is still adapting to the league and is yet to open his goal-scoring tally. Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez have been severely underperforming as the duo have scored 12 goals combined from 20.22 xG this season which is 8.22 goals fewer than expected. Salah, a 3-time Premier League golden boot winner, has had a poor campaign so far with his stats taking a major hit by the constant injuries to key first-team players. He has made just 39 touches per 90 and 7 touches in the opposition box per 90 which is a major decrease from 50 touches per 90 and 9.6 touches in the opposition box per 90 last season.
Klopp will have to find a way to involve the Egyptian in the build-up and provide enough support alongside him so that the player can find his feet again and contribute to scoring. Nunez, who joined the Reds from Benfica in the summer, is also still adapting to the league and nursing an injury that has reduced his game time. The Uruguayan is also a player who thrives off support from the players around him even though his finishing has been of major criticism recently. It will be interesting to see how Klopp and the backroom staff find a way to fix their attacking woes and return back to winning ways having been winless in their last 6 games in all competitions.
The Portuguese winger has been his side’s top scorer this season with 5 goals and an assist to his name so far. The 27-year-old will be a crucial player for Loptegui to cause havoc down the left wing up against Trent Alexander Arnold who had a game to forget against Brighton last time out as Kaoru Mitoma exposed the English fullback’s defensive weaknesses as the Seagulls were able to create a lot of chances from that side of the pitch. Podence, who is a great dribbler and ball carrier, will certainly be a threat and a headache for Trent to defend against.
The Egyptian has scored 17 times so far this season in all competitions making him his side’s top scorer despite his struggles. With a goal-conversion rate of 24%, Salah hasn’t been at his best this season even though his goal-scoring abilities cannot be underestimated. “Form is temporary, class is permanent” is a quote used very frequently in the footballing context and the Scouse faithful will hope that is the case for the 30-year-old who can, on his day, decide games on his own.
Wolverhampton Wanderers(4-4-2): Sa; Semedo, Collins, Kilman, Bueno; Guedes, Neves, Lemina; Traore, Cunha, Podence.
Liverpool(4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Matip, Robertson; Thiago, Bajcetic, Elliott; Salah, Nunez, Gakpo.