Wolves show their hunger and usher Liverpool out the door
Goals from Raul Jimenez and Ruben Neves send Wolves through to fourth round
Raul Jimenez of Wolverhampton Wanderers scores the opening goal during the FA Cup match against Liverpool at Molineux. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Wolves 2 Liverpool 1
It would be wrong to suggest a club with Liverpool’s proud history will be completely unmoved about the prospect of a third-round elimination from a competition they have won seven times. They do, however, clearly have other priorities and it was certainly difficult to remember the last time a team from Anfield has seemed as indifferent to the FA Cup as Jürgen Klopp’s team did during this dishevelled defeat.
The time to judge whether Klopp was entitled to take such a risk will probably be at the end of the season, when we know whether the current Premier League leaders have held on to their position at the top of the table. For now, however, all that really can be said is they were obliging opponents for a Wolves side that took advantage of Klopp’s team selection and won the tie with a firecracker of a shot from Ruben Neves.
In truth, Wolves won despite putting in a performance that seldom rated above six out of 10. Equally, it was never likely they would have to reach their peak levels on a night when Liverpool’s approach could be accurately gauged by the fact Klopp started with two teenage debutants, Curtis Jones and Rafael Camacho, and a 16-year-old, Ki-Jana Hoever, was brought on after only six minutes because of an injury to Dejan Lovren. Hoever, recruited from the Ajax academy, became only the third player of that age to appear for Liverpool’s in the club’s entire history.
Klopp would still be entitled to point out his starting XI included nine full internationals. Yet there could be little doubt about his priorities, with Alisson, Virgil van Dijk and Andy Robertson among those given the night off. Van Dijk is now Liverpool’s only fit senior centre half and Lovren’s early departure meant Klopp experimenting with a back four comprising one player who is not old enough to start driving lessons, another teenager, a reserve left back in the shape of Alberto Moreno and Fabinho, operating as a centre half when usually he can be found in midfield.
For Wolves, it was a golden opportunity to reach the fourth round and surprising, perhaps, that it was not until Raul Jiménez’s 38th-minute goal that the home side exerted any real control.
Until that point Liverpool had been largely untroubled without being clever enough on the ball to cause any problems of their own. Nuno Espírito Santo had put out a strong team but Wolves struggled to find any real momentum during the early exchanges and, given the number of changes made by Klopp, the home crowd could have been forgiven for expecting a more dynamic start.
Wolves had lost five of their previous seven home fixtures and perhaps that might have jarred their confidence. Otherwise, it was strange that they could be so passive, lacking width and penetration and showing little to suggest they had heeded the “Cup Inspiration” headline on the back of the Wolverhampton Express & Star, urging them to win for the memory of the recently deceased Bill Slater, who captained the side to their last FA Cup triumph in 1960.
The tempo was far too slow, from both sides, and perhaps it was fitting that the key moment in a prosaic first half originated from a player losing the ball. James Milner was the guilty player, conceding possession just inside the opposition half. Diogo Jota slipped the ball to Jiménez and immediately set off for the penalty area to make sure he was available, if needed, for the return pass. He wasn’t - but it turned out to be a useful option because of the way it distracted the recovering Liverpool players. Fabinho could not cut out the danger and Jiménez had a clear run towards goal as soon as his opponent missed the attempted tackle. Jiménez simply kept running, cutting in diagonally from the right. Nobody was close enough and he beat Simon Mignolet with a precise finish just inside the post.
If Wolves had played with a greater sense of adventure, they could conceivably have had even greater joy. As it was, they found themselves ahead without having played with any real distinction themselves. Yet Liverpool were poor during that part of the match. Their strikers could probably cite a lack of service but it was still a lacklustre effort from Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi.
Klopp must have wanted more from Xherdan Shaqiri, too, and that was the theme of the away team’s performance. This ought to have been an opportunity for these players to make case for getting more time on the pitch in the Premier League. Disappointingly for Klopp, that was not the case.
Or at least not in the first half. Liverpool had to improve and, six minutes after the restart, Milner tried a shot from the edge of the penalty area. The ball rebounded to Origi and, having adjusted his feet, his left-footed shot went through the legs of Leander Dendoncker to beat John Ruddy in the home goal.
It was a splendid strike but the game’s outstanding moment came four minutes later when Neves collected the ball almost 30 yards out. As soon as his first touch created the shooting angle, there was no doubt he was going to let fly. His shot was powerfully struck but it was the precision, just inside the near post, and the way Neves moved the ball in midair, with so much late dip, that deceived Mignolet.
Shaqiri came closest to an equaliser for Liverpool with a free-kick that Ruddy got the faintest touch on to push it on to the woodwork but Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, both brought on in the 70th minute, could not conjure up a recovery. – Guardian