After a riveting mid-week Premier League matchday, the action shall be shifted to the weekend. The title racing is heating up, as is the Top 4 battle. Liverpool are staking their claim for the former while Wolves are currently in a Europa League spot and could aim higher over the course of the season.
Bruno Lage is finally making things happen at Molineux. They lost their first three games of the season but believed in their methods and tactics. Thanks to that, they have only lost twice in the last eleven fixtures. The Portuguese manager has well and truly replaced Nuno Espirito Santo, and his team are buying into his style of play. He also has the luxury to choose from several players as his squad possess a lot of depth, mainly in the forward areas. Previously, Wolverhampton Wanderers had to deal with handing Adama Traore game-time since he was the least bad option out of the 18-men. However, Francisco Trincao and Fabio Silva are doing quite a good job as is Hwang Hee-Chan. Moreover, Daniel Podence is yet to return from his injury. Thus, the team are functioning well, but Lage would be concerned about the back-to-back draws against Burnley and Norwich. They dominated against the Clarets but were beaten to their own game at Carrow Road. They shall have to maintain consistency if they hope to challenge for the European spots. But one good thing they have enjoyed in the last eleven games is that they have not played a team from the Top 3. That shall change this weekend when they host Liverpool. The Reds have been imperious this season, scoring 43 goals in 14 games. It shall be a massive task to keep them at bay. One way of doing this is going pound for pound at them. Brighton and West Ham have avoided defeat against them, and they have been fearless in doing so. Lage shall need to ensure that the confidence levels are up and the belief to beat the best is instilled. Wolves were a wonder side when they were first promoted, and they just need to find that magic back and start competing to avail a spot in the Top 4.
Liverpool have been unassailable this season. Every season Jurgen Klopp manages to astound the biggest critics by showcasing their tremendous energy levels. They never let up and are always hungry for more. It is quite surprising because there is not a lot of competition for spots, courtesy of which their brilliance is mainly self-driven. They want to be amongst the best, if not the best. That is also why they have failed to score more than 1 goal in a game only once this season. Mohamed Salah is in the form of his life and his performance at the weekend epitomized it brilliantly. He converted two half-chances into goals, and his awareness and killer instinct have not changed since he signed for the Reds in 2017. Jordan Henderson looks like he is a man on a mission to win the league title this season, and his focus and determination is quite telling of that. Trent Alexander Arnold remains the chief creator of the side, thanks to his sensational ability to cross the ball in the box. Virgil van Dijk looked underconfident at the start of the season, but that is natural given the kind of injury he went through. But he is back to his best and is going toe-to-toe with the best strikers across the league. Thiago Alcantara is finally contributing actively to goals, rather than hitting the stylish passes from side to side. Even the deputies have stepped up their game. James Milner is ageing like a fine wine while Alex Oxlade Chamberlain is keeping the midfield on their toes. Kostas Tsimikas is also doing a fine job at left-back. Thus, it is all going good right now, and they are only two points off league leaders Chelsea. However, they cannot stop now, and they need to be aware that while they are rampant going forward, they are conceding the odd goal, and they have paid for it against Brighton and West Ham United. Wolves are tricky opponents, especially in their own backyard. They can pull off the unthinkable if needed but the Reds shall take solace in the fact that the Midlands club have never defeated them since being promoted in 2018. Jurgen Klopp & co are unlikely to drop their levels, especially when Man City and Chelsea could slip up in their games, as they face Watford and West Ham respectively on Saturday.
WHEN & WHERE?
Venue: Molineux Stadium.
Date: Saturday, 4th of December 2021.
Time: Kick-off at 15:00 BST.
Referee: Chris Kavanagh.
Assistants: Dan Cook, Dan Robathan.
Fourth official: David Coote.
VAR: Jonathan Moss.
Assistant VAR: Timothy Wood.
Bruno Lage has several concerns going into the weekend game. Marcal and Daniel Podence both tested positive for Covid-19 but the latter might be available to face Liverpool following a positive test. However, he might only feature on the bench and is unlikely to start, given the after-effects of the disease. Willy Boly, Jonny, Hugo Bueno, Yerson Mosquera and Pedro Neto are out of contention. Ruben Neves shall return after being unable to feature against Burnley due to his suspension.
Thus, the starting line-up is expected to remain the same, with the only likely change being the return of Neves.
Jurgen Klopp has received two injury boosts ahead of facing Wolves. Joe Gomez and Naby Keita have returned to training after their respective injuries but shall not travel to the Molineux. They could be available after that if they continue their good progress. Harvey Elliot remains out with his long-term injury.
Apart from the trio, the Reds will be carrying a full-fledged squad to the Midlands as they look to avoid losing ground in the title race.
Will Bruno Lage encourage his side to press high against Liverpool?
The number one thing most teams avoid against the Reds is to press high up the pitch and leave spaces behind. However, this is where Wolves might balance their structure out. Their midfielders can run back and forth comfortably, and their frontline is incredibly hard working. The defence does not need to push up high, thereby leaving few areas for the opposition to run into. Moreover, Liverpool have struggled to break down teams that possess a 5-man backline. Bruno Lage will need to motivate his side to be quick in transition and hurt the opposition at every chance they get. Mo Salah and Sadio love to counter-attack, and Wolves shall need to ensure that they never commit too many men in the hope to score a goal. Frustrating the Reds and capitalizing on their mistakes is the best way to beat them, and Lage would be aware of this.
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The Reds to open the scoring again?
Liverpool have excelled at scoring first this season. In the 14 games they have played this season, they have scored the opening goal on 11 occasions. It is not a mere coincidence that Klopp likes his players to exhaust themselves in the opening 20 minutes of the game. It is a clever tactic to catch the opposition off-guard and force them to come out of the blocks. Teams often commit numbers ahead if they have to equalize and Liverpool take advantage of this opportunity by playing on the counter-attack. They will test Wolves similarly and are bound to find success. Diogo Jota, Mo Salah, and Sadio Mane have been imperious this season, and they will be hoping to increase their goal tally on the weekend.
The Portuguese international missed the last game due to suspension but will be available for this tie. Neves has held the midfield by himself this season, garnering the most time on the ball after Conor Coady. His defensive contributions are also important as he rarely allows the opponent to try the spectacular or play through the defence. Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcantara look in fine goal-scoring form and are pivotal in Liverpool’s build-up play. The Wolves ace will need to gain ground in the midfield battle and intercept whatever comes his way. He also needs to use possession well and use his passing ability to find runners like Hwang Hee-Chan and Francisco Trincao. This is a crucial game for Bruno Lage, and his fellow countryman shall need to come through for him on Saturday afternoon.
Could it really be anybody else? The Egyptian is scoring goals for fun and is at the peak of his fitness levels. He has scored or assisted in his last 12 games across all competitions, and he would like his chances on Saturday. Rayan Ait-Nouri often ventures forward and leaves the right-wing relatively easy to run into. Salah only needs a chance to run 1v1 against his man, because in his current form, he is likely to get the better of him. Moreover, he has shown that he can score all types of goals this season and can wriggle through tight spaces. There is very little the 29-year-old cannot do, and he will be looking to be the difference-maker on the weekend as he marches on to win his 3rd Golden Boot.
Wolverhampton Wanderers predicted XI: Jose Sa; Maximillian Kilman, Conor Coady, Romain Saiss; Nelson Semedo, Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho, Rayan Ait-Nouri; Francisco Trincao, Raul Jimenez, Hwang Hee-Chan.
Liverpool predicted XI– Allison; Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ibrahima Konate, Virgil Van Dijk, Andy Robertson; Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara; Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota, Sadio Mane.