Wolves 0 Liverpool 1
Get well soon, Rui Patrício. That thought was foremost in everyone's minds at Molineux after the Wolves goalkeeper was carried off the pitch with a head injury suffered just before the end of a match decided by Diogo Jota's first-half goal. Patrício was hurt in an accidental collision with the knee of his team-mate Conor Coady as the pair tried to close down Mohamed Salah.
Wolves are all too aware of the danger of head trauma, as their striker Raúl Jiménez is still recovering from a fractured skull sustained against Arsenal in November.
Until Patrício's misfortune the main consideration here was the influence of the only goal scorer. Never mind his return to Molineux, Diogo Jota is back for Liverpool. His 10th goal for the Merseyside club since joining from Wolves last summer was his first since regaining fitness after a three-month lay-off and not only did it give Liverpool maximum points from a vibrant contest, it confirmed how important Jota is to Liverpool's hopes of salvaging joy from a miserable season.
Having accepted that Liverpool’s only remaining route to glory this season is the Champions League, and given how injuries have hobbled his team throughout the campaign, Jürgen Klopp might have been tempted to rest a key player or two to preserve them for European competition even if that meant inviting other clubs to finish above them in the Premier League.
But that tends not to be how Klopp operates, nor an institution of Liverpool’s stature, and his selection here suggested he regretted dallying with rotation in his team’s last league match, that limp 1-0 home defeat by Fulham. Instead he sent out the same side that started last week’s Champions League victory over RB Leipzig, arguing that regaining momentum on the domestic front could help his team advance on the continent.
That meant that Jota returned to Molineux for the first time since his his £45 million transfer last summer. The Portuguese is remembered with affection in the midlands but, truth be told, he was not as vital to Wolves in his final months there as he has become for Liverpool. His recovery from injury has been a welcome piece of good news for Klopp. However, the forward was relatively quiet until breaking the deadlock just before half-time.
Until then Wolves had given as good as they got. Willy Boly returned to the centre of their defence in their only alteration from their last match but Liverpool's centre backs came into the game under more scrutiny, with Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips hoping to prove, in their third start together, that they could bring security to Liverpool's most vulnerable sector.
The visitors' defence was stretched in the second minute when Adama Traoré flew past Andy Robertson and delivered a cross that Alisson needed two attempts to claim. Moments later the goalkeeper parried a shot by Nélson Semedo, who had raided down the same flank after Traoré moved infield to cause havoc.
Nuno Espírito Santo had been frustrated all season by his team’s habit of starting matches slowly but the evidence here suggested he had found a solution to that problem, as Wolves were sharper and neater all over the pitch early on. But Liverpool cut them open in the 11th minute when Georginio Wijnaldum released Sadio Mané. Patrício forced the Senegalese wide so the angle was too tight for him to shoot after skipping past the goalkeeper. Wolves scrambled to snuff out the chance.
Now the contest had a gripping flow, with the teams launching tit-for-tat attacks, though neither could produce a killer final touch. Kabak did well to stop Traoré from unloading a shot from 15 yards after another slick Wolves move. Coady made a crucial block in the 24th minute to deny Wijnaldum a chance after wonderful mischief-making down the right by Trent Alexander-Arnold and Salah. Soon Phillips had to stage an equally important intervention at the other end.
Five minutes before the break Salah and Alexander-Arnold combined nicely again before the full back crossed for Mané, who sent a plunging header just wide from 11 yards. Jonny Castro invited Rúben Neves to give Wolves a lead to take into the interval but he, too, failed to find the target, blasting wide 15 yards. He rued that all the more when Jota struck moments later.
The goal came from a counterattack featuring all three of Liverpool’s forwards, and when Mané fed Jota on the left-hand side of the box, the Portuguese fired it in at the near post, with Patrício getting a hand on it but unable to stop it.
Wolves came out like a side determined to right a wrong. Willian José would have had a chance to equalise if Phillips did not beat him to a cross. Then Coady was given a free header from eight yards but bopped it over. Wolves were coming on strong but Liverpool threatened to strike on the counter again in the 55th minute, only for Jonny to ambush Salah just as the forward wound up a shot.
Liverpool managed the remainder of the game well, with Alisson making comfortable saves from Traoré and Fabio Silva. But then Salah was played through, slightly offside, and as Coady and Patrício tried to deal with it they collided. – Guardian