After beating Napoli and Manchester United in the space of five days, Liverpool are in seventh heaven at the moment. They have reached the knockout stages of the Champions League after coming out of a difficult group, and are the league leaders in England. Hence we can feel something is going well at Anfield under the tutelage of charisma itself, Jürgen Klopp!
However, the season doesn’t end here and games come thick and fast during the Christmas period. Next up for the Reds is a tricky away game against newly-promoted Wolves at Molineux on Friday.
Historically, away fixtures at promoted teams haven’t been easy for established Premier League clubs. And Nuno Espirito Santo’s men are looking anything but a side who were playing Championship football last year.
The Old Gold are currently seventh in the table, just a point behind sixth-placed Manchester United. They are on a run of three straight victories after a blip during late October and November. This team has shown the powers of recovery and look certain to last the distance in the top-flight.
Liverpool arrive here with a hope to go four points clear of Manchester City before the latter play Crystal Palace on Saturday. Meanwhile Wolves will be aiming to win this red-letter game, hand their opponents their first league loss of the season and leapfrog a manager-less United in the table. So the importance of this game is massive for both teams as we start the festive bonanza of games in England.
We have been in awe of how the Reds attack and score goals to win games. But their defence has been a breath of fresh air. The arrival of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker has made a telling difference. Andy Robertson is probably the best left-back in the league, alongside able support from Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and most recently, Nathaniel Clyne.
The above image shows the action points of van Dijk from Liverpool’s last six league matches. We can see the amount of defensive work he does in his own box. He can make ball recoveries in the opposition half as well to keep attacks going.
Talking about this game, Wolves are expected to sit deep and hurt Liverpool on the counter. This is where someone like Xherdan Shaqiri would be key for the Reds. The Swiss maestro came on and changed the game against Manchester United in a flash. He could start on Friday and be the difference-maker, as he has scored five goals and supplied two assists in 13 appearances, with a direct goal involvement every 89 minutes.
We have heard the criticism that Shaqiri doesn’t do enough for the team without possession. However, we can clearly see in the graphics that he has made ball recoveries in his own half and also in the opposition half. His quality in the final third with the ball is unquestionable. With Wolves sitting deep, he could have the key to unlock their stubborn rearguard.
As for the home team, they have been in good form in the past two weeks, beating Chelsea in the process. The encouraging fact for them is that they have only lost once when playing against the current top-six teams. They drew against Manchester City (H), Manchester United (A), Arsenal (A); beat Chelsea (H); and narrowly lost to Tottenham (H).
Hence, Nuno’s men have the know-how to face the bigger challenges and come out with flying colours. However, the goals have been hard to come by for them, and there is a clear dependency on Raul Jimenez to produce the goods. The Mexican has netted five goals and supplied four assists so far, meaning he is been involved in half of the goals scored by his team this season.
The loanee from Benfica is a proper number nine who can hold the ball up and bring others into play, he can press from the front and recover possession as high as possible (as the above dashboard depicts to a certain extent). Moreover, he is effective in the final third and will be a real menace for the opposition defenders.
So if Liverpool are to win this game, they have to stop Jimenez from having any sort of impact in their box. On the other hand, Wolves fans would be hoping that their striker comes up with the goods and helps them to another positive result against a top side.
An away win is on the cards, but we cannot discount what the home team have achieved thus far. It will be a tight game with Molineux shining bright and making an unforgettable atmosphere.