It’s safe to say that most clubs and respective supporters would look at our current circumstances with some degree of dread if they were in our boots. No, I don’t mean being tied atop the league and having won our CL group or being one of the biggest, most popular clubs in the world. Yes, I know that most clubs would give some version of their eye teeth for such status. I mean on the pitch. The ridiculous string of injuries that our side has suffered in the past few months, including both starting centerbacks out for the season and a world-renowned midfielder whom we just bought being out until who knows when, means that there’s often been some question about whom is actually going to show up in the matchday 18. But there’s rarely a club that could look at that 18, see two 19-year-olds in it, and a 22-year-old keeper starting his first Premier League match and think: “Looks good.” Until now…
Curtis Jones is essentially a regular starter in our midfield now and there’s no way to argue that “it’s only because X is missing.” I’m as confident of his ability to successfully perform in one of the best sides in Europe as I am of almost any of the rest of our regulars. Similarly, while Neco Williams doesn’t have the devastating crossing ability of Trent Alexander-Arnold (once again on display for the brilliant pass into what should’ve been a Sadio Mané goal but was, instead, a Nelson Semedo own-goal; the pass to Trent for that cross was delivered by CuJo…), he’s a capable right back who can be relied upon to do the job on defense and at least threaten the opposition on offense. Which brings us to Caomhin Kelleher (or “Kellher” as he was known in the first half.) He didn’t have a ton to do, as Wolves only hit the target three times, but in each instance, he was in the right spot and had good movement to preserve a clean sheet. Somehow not surprisingly, he’s only the 2nd-youngest in Liverpool’s lengthy history to accomplish that on his first league start (Elisha Scott in 1913 who was, of course, nineteen.) Like I was saying a couple weeks ago, this is the depth that we’ve been yearning for the last few years. Like I was saying before that, this is the level of skill that the academy is now producing and why the famed La Masia wants to adopt our slogan as their own (That last part is a joke. Kind of.) This is the vision that Jürgen Klopp had for the club; that everyone, U12s to senior squad, knows what’s required, knows our tactics, knows our philosophy, and executes it to the best of his ability.
Wolves are not a casual encounter. They have talent and are extremely well-disciplined by their manager. But Leicester isn’t a casual encounter, either, and when Liverpool are on their game, this is often the result, regardless of opponent. What certainly aided the result was the return of 2000 fans to the Kop who sang You’ll Never Walk Alone like they were 20,000.
Those fans sung every song from the book, especially those for the stars of the game (Mo Salah, Gini Wijnaldum) but, in truth, it was hard to pick out any one player from the game who was man-of-the-match, since everyone contributed to what turned from a competitive match into a 4-0 thrashing. This is the machine, complete with spectators, and it was wonderful to see.
The game. So, again, the midfield was brilliant. Wolves typically play in a 5-2-3, using a back 5 with wingbacks. Our midfield was oriented to deal with that, with Curtis on the left, Gini at the 6, and O Captain, Our Captain Jordan Henderson on the right. That latter situation is usually to give Neco the extra cover that he needs, while Curtis is more than capable of handling the recycler role on the left, which tends to drift inside, while the interplay that happens between Hendo and the RB on the right is taken up by Andy Robertson and Sadio on the left. But Wolves came out in a 4-3-3, which means they were basically playing us man-up in the middle third, instead of trying to get overloads. That meant that we shifted after a few minutes to Hendo as the CM and Gini in his typical role on the left, while Curtis, who has a good understanding with Neco on the right side from their academy days, covered that channel. This is assessed with the understanding that all three of them are going to rotate regularly in the same way that the front three do. No one is locked into a role, although the midfield trio do tend to become a bit more regimented when Fabinho is present to play the 6.
Goal #1 was our midfield in a nutshell. Gini in a bottle chased down the ball, secured it, moved it to his DM (Hendo), who immediately looked up to see Mo ready to dash into the box, and delivered the perfect pass. The fact that former Liverpool academy member, Conor Coady, mishandled his interception of said pass and dropped the ball right in front of Mo was just the icing to having one’s cake and eating it, too. Don’t overlook the excellent control of the ball that let Mo put the perfect shot past Rui Patricio off the bounce, either. That’s far from an easy finish. It’s also Mo’s ninth goal in the PL this season, which overall ties him with Cristiano Ronaldo’s career total in the league in 63 fewer games.
Goal #2 was a picture of terror for every other PL side setting themselves wide as they try to produce chances in our end, as Roberto Firmino snagged a ball intended for the center and immediately released it to Gini, Sadio, and Mo racing for the other end. The ball reached Gini who took it and the space provided him by Wolves defenders sticking to the other two attackers in the box and unleashed a shot from the Netherworlds (lands), just like he does for the national team, sticking it in the upper right corner. It was his 20th goal for Liverpool and one of the best. It’s worth arguing that Gini has been our best player this season, but there’s no argument that he’s been our most reliable, this being his 11th(!) game in the past five weeks, for club and country.
Goal #3 was obviously something they’d been working on at Kirkby, as they tried that short pass to Salah a couple other times during the match. This time, Mo was able to rotate contrary to the line sufficiently to put a positively golden cross right into the middle of the group. Joel Matip was able to meet it first and with authoritah. 5 of Joel’s 6 goals for our club have been headers and they’ve all come from set pieces (5 corners, 1 free kick.) It was awesome to see his enthusiasm afterwards, too. You could tell that the joy and rhythm with which he was playing was emblematic of every other Red on the pitch.
Goal #4 was another perfect depiction of Liverpool’s free-flowing capacity and the space provided by Wolverhampton doing whatever necessary to try to at least make a showing of it. Curtis’ cross-pitch pass caught Trent almost in stride and that pass he delivered into the box is just typical of his extraordinary skill (It’s worth noting that he’s only 22, like Caomhin.) Chelsea fans had been mouthy on Twitter about Reece James being the “best right back in the PL but people won’t admit it because they’re not ready to have that conversation.” Chelsea fans weren’t ready, either, until Trent was out injured. Took all of nine minutes on the pitch to put that opinion away until the next time Trent is out.
But whom to list as MotM? I dunno. Again, you could say the entire midfield because of this:
There’s an argument to be made for any of the front three, as well, as Sadio probably should have scored twice more, in addition to the OG from Semedo, Mo’s excellent movement and two appearances on the scoresheet (1 goal, 1 assist), and Bob knitting together so many opportunities for everyone else. This may have been his best game of the season. But you also can’t ignore Robbo bombing down the sideline or the Joel-Fabinho partnership contributing to the 11th match since Virgil’s injury where we’ve allowed six goals, in total, with six clean sheets; three of them with this pair, including today. And, again, Caomhin was Mr. Assuredness. It takes serious awareness to not only understand that Daniel Podence’s chip from the top of the box is probably going to go in, but also start moving your feet soon enough to be able to make a play on the ball. That’s top-end keeper stuff.
But I’ll have to go with the captain, who completed the most passes (81), completed the most passes in the final third (19), created the most chances (3), and had the most recoveries (7.) This was as the player with the most touches on the pitch (97) and all of this while nominally playing as the DM. Magisterial.
On the other-than-football things. I’m sure most of you saw the backlash to idiot Millwall fans booing the players taking a knee as part of the EFL’s continuing anti-racism campaign. On the one hand, you could just roll your eyes and mutter “Millwall…” and not be too far from reality. However, there were some boos cascading down at London Stadium at the start of the West Ham – ManU match, as well. Is this where we just roll our eyes and mutter “East London…”? I’d like to think not. It’s extremely discouraging to not only hear the effect of the idiot racists in our society, but also see the reaction from them in Twitter threads, where their approach is to deny their own perfidy in the name of free speech (“Just fans expressing their opinion!”) or to attempt to label the anti-racist groups in the US as “Marxists” and their expressions of disdain having to do with political differences. Believe me, as an actual Marxist, these racist fools wouldn’t know one if one walked up and kicked them in the ass (which should probably really happen.) It was, therefore, quite heartening to see the entire Kop stand up and applaud when Wolves and LFC took the knee before our match. Liverpool being the kind of city it is, I would’ve been surprised at any other result. (Most of them probably would have applauded actual Marxists, too.)
On the downside, now that fans are being allowed back in, I have to say it’s really disappointing to see the constant reminders about mask use flashing around the stadium, only to see repeated crowd shots showing people wearing theirs beneath their noses or not wearing them at all. We’re trying to beat this thing, people, and it takes a concerted effort to do that. Winning the lottery to get to come to Anfield is a privilege of the highest order. There will be no more lotteries and no more fans in the stadia if Liverpool slips back to Tier 3 status; to say nothing of the resultant infections and lives that are lost. Please take this seriously. A vaccine is on the way, but we want everyone to be here to get it.
Wait… VAR actually worked?! That don’t seem right. Seriously, though, this is exactly how the system is supposed to function. Craig Pawson blows erroneous whistle for a foul in the box and, thus, a penalty. Jon Moss watches the event and says: “Doubt engaged.” and calls down to Pawson to go look at the monitor. Pawson dutifully does so and realizes he was mistaken and we’re done here, right? Well, almost. Despite the fragile egos of PL refs, no one was concerned about Pawson making a mistake on the initial call. The action is fast, there were a lot of players clustered around, and his view was partially blocked. He reversed himself and no one thought about it again… except for what came after, which is the lack of a yellow card for simulation on Conor Coady’s part. This becomes open season for all the commentators who want everyone to play like Burnley to get on their high horses about everyone flopping in the box to try to get a penalty. It’s certainly true that Coady did dive to get the call. But any striker will tell you about his routine muggings in the box that never, ever get called unless the player in question goes down. Take this example from the Chelsea-Leeds game on Saturday:
Hey. That’s a foul. Ian Poveda is prevented from getting to the ball and his progress is impeded when Ben Chillwell kicks his foot. Poveda didn’t go down because he was determined to carry through with his move, but VAR could’ve picked that up and Leeds would’ve had a penalty. And, yet, somehow that same play was a penalty for Brighton against us last week. Again, the problem isn’t the technology. It’s the people using it. It worked successfully for us today against Wolverhampton, but I don’t think anyone watching would’ve been surprised if Pawson had come back from the monitor and pointed to the spot again. And Coady should’ve been carded.
Alrighty, then. That’s a long write-up for a regular league game but it was an excellent game. Next up is a trip to Dortmund to play our last group game against Midtjylland (Denmark being in the midst of another surge and denying large gatherings again; hey, remember that mask thing I was just talking about…?) I expect a full slate of not-regulars to be on the pitch as Klopp rests everyone for next Sunday’s game at Craven Cottage vs Fulham (Woo! Six days of rest for the starters!) And then… Tottenham looms.