Liverpool are top of the league for Christmas after Wolves win
Jurgen Klopp’s team continue unbeaten start thanks to goals from Salah and Van Dijk
Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk celebrate scoring against Wolves. Photograph: Getty Images
Wolves 0 Liverpool 2
The presents have come early this year for Liverpool, who can look forward to spending Christmas Day enjoying the view from the top of the Premier League table. The fact that the team in that position in eight of the previous nine seasons has gone on to win the league is the good news. The bad news is that Liverpool, back in 2013-14, were the one club to come up short.
This Liverpool team, however, is intent on writing their own history and victories such as this one will do nothing to dampen the belief that Jürgen Klopp and his players have their best chance yet of winning the Premier League title. Another terrific goal from Mohamed Salah, who is now the Premier League’s top scorer with 11, set Liverpool on their way to a seventh successive top-flight win.
Virgil van Dijk, with his first goal for the club since he scored on his debut against Everton in the FA Cup, added the second from close-range to enable Liverpool to open up a four-point lead over Manchester City at the top and extinguish any hopes that Wolverhampton Wanderers had of salvaging something from the game.
Liverpool are now unbeaten in 19 Premier League fixtures and it was particularly impressive to see Klopp’s team close out this game with the minimum of fuss, bearing in mind that Wolves have beaten Chelsea here and taken points off both Manchester clubs and Arsenal this season.
Optimism abounds at Wolves these days. Although to provide a bit of context, Mark Lawrenson and Bruce Grobbelaar were making their debuts and Liverpool were European champions the last time Wolves beat them at Molineux. That was 37 years ago and it was always going to need something special for the current team to repeat that trick.
Going behind inside 20 minutes was not part of the plan but that was the position that Wolves found themselves in after Liverpool scored from their first meaningful attack. The goal was simple enough in its construction – Fabinho played a one-two with Sadio Mané on the right – but exquisitely finished by Salah, who was standing almost sideways on when he nonchalantly flicked the Brazilian’s astute cutback beyond Rui Patricio with the outside of his left boot.
Wolves will view that concession a little differently. Up until that point they had soaked up plenty of Liverpool possession without being cut open. Ruben Neves, however, switched off and failed to track Fabinho on the edge of his own penalty area, enabling the midfielder to run in behind unopposed. Fabinho’s centre was perfect and what followed, from about eight yards out, was a touch of class from Salah.
Wolves, in fairness, had carried the greater attacking threat in the early stages. Adama Traoré’s pace was always going to be a useful outlet in behind and Raul Jiménez, who played alongside him in attack, was happy to come short and receive the ball with his back to goal. Those two combined in that very way to create a decent chance for Wolves in the 10th minute. Jiménez took the ball down superbly on his chest and released Traoré, who galloped into the space that opened up in the inside right channel before dragging a low shot beyond Alisson’s far upright.
Traoré had enjoyed another sight of goal earlier in the game. Fabinho’s wayward pass arrived at the feet of Traoré via Joao Moutinho but the winger rather snatched at a shot that flashed wide. That mistake by Fabinho was far from the only one made on a sodden pitch as the rain lashed down relentlessly. Conor Coady was fortunate to get away with an error at the other end and Naby Keita was grateful that Alisson came to his rescue after Doherty latched on to another misplaced pass.
Doherty, who has been so impressive this season, was causing Liverpool plenty of problems with his desire to get forward on the Wolves right. Coady’s raking diagonal pass, after a prolonged period of Wolves possession, picked out Doherty. The Irishman intelligently slid the ball into the path of Romain Saiss, whose run into the Liverpool area went untracked, but the midfielder’s curling shot was saved by Alisson.
Salah’s goal four minutes later could easily have discouraged Wolves but, to their credit, the home team continued to attack with conviction and belief. Jonny Castro, teed up by Traoré’s first-time pass, saw his shot saved by Alisson and Doherty had claims for a penalty turned down when his sinuous run into the Liverpool area was brought to a halt by James Milner. Replays appeared to suggest that Craig Pawson, the referee, got that decision right given that Milner, back in the Liverpool team at right-back, had planted his foot before Doherty ran into him.
As much as Wolves were playing well, chasing a game against this Liverpool team is far from ideal, especially on an evening when Klopp had been particularly bullish in his approach. At times Roberto Firmino, Salah, Mane and Keita were playing like a front four, leaving Fabinho and Jordan Henderson, who was making his 300th Liverpool appearance, holding the fort.
As the game passed the hour mark, Liverpool were beginning to look more and more comfortable and it was no real surprise when they doubled their lead. Adam Lallana, on for the injured Keita, saw his close-range effort blocked and Liverpool profited from the corner that followed. Saiss’s clearance dropped for Salah and his perfectly flighted cross picked out Van Dijk, who coolly side-footed home from just inside the six-yard box.