Dave porter reports on wolves 3-0 victory over Liverpool
a game of four quarters
At the start of the season the computer charged with laying out the games for the coming season had created a gloomy looking, back to back, black hole of Manchester City away and Liverpool at home. Even with pre-season expectations running quite high at Wolves, this looked tough. Roll back only a few weeks and the block of games had the feeling of a run, where it would be likely that Wolves would have to accept a return to the drop zone. It is perhaps as telling then, that going into this game, many had changed their view from one of a ‘free hit’ to genuine belief that Wolves could obtain a result against a spluttering and out of form Liverpool side, that Wolves themselves should have knocked out of the FA cup. The early game had seen Everton beat the league leaders, adding additional pressure to this fixture, and the need to get something from the game to stay ahead of those chasing the pack.
The Wolves team announcement was in the main met with general consensus. Most expected new signing Dawson to make his debut, and it was almost a coin toss as to which centre half would be jettisoned from the starting eleven. Nathan Collins can probably feel unlucky that Dawson is right footed. Had Dawson had the reverse foot dexterity, you would have expected Kilman to have been the makeweight. The only other discussion point was the inclusion of Hwang ahead of either Podence or Adama. The selection looked tactical based on the needs of the game, and the tactical approach, but there would have been few who would have predicted how the personnel would have lined up in formation.
Liverpool had some injuries but were still able to boast a forward line of Salah, Gakpo and Nunes. Behind them however, you had the impression that even on paper, Wolves had the edge in terms of personnel particularly in midfield. Although even with that in mind, what followed was very unexpected.
Dipping into the bag of footballing cliché’s you will regularly pull out the ‘game of two halves’ and in fairness, the old adage is often right. It’s lesser known cousin however, the game of four quarters, was much more appropriate to describe this game.
Hold on, are Wolves playing 4-4-2? They are you know. Who predicted this? Yes, there was broad consensus on the line up, but there would have been unanimous agreement that the team would be lining up in a 4-3-3. Lopetegui has done something tactical here. Sarabia is playing up front with Cunha. Nunes is on the left of midfield and Lemina is anchored in front of the defence leaving Neves on the pivot of a flattened diamond. Unexpected but what an impact. Wolves were everywhere. Liverpool simply blown away by a high pressing, dominating and classy Wolves side.
Two openings in the first five minutes followed. A Cunha shot from distance parried away by Alisson was followed by Sarabia pulling a shot just wide having been released by Hwang. Wolves continued to dominate and the goal that followed felt inevitable. Some well worked interactions between Neves and Sarabia allowed the latter to find Hwang from deep. Hwang’s attempted cut back ricochet of Matip’s leg onto a post and crossing the line before Alison could clear from behind the line. 1-0 Wolves and it was, despite the short time elapsed in the game, absolutely deserved. Total dominance. Liverpool had no ideas. Wolves had landed a punch and the Liverpool teams legs were wobbling. Another emphatic punch followed. Dawson on debut smashed in a rocket from 8 yards high into the net after Liverpool had barely bothered to defend a Wolves freekick. Cunha had received the initial pass and gathered the follow up to cross. The cross looked like it should be claimed, but instead was headed to Kilman on the edge of the six yard box. His header was blocked, surely with a hand, but before the first syllable of ‘Ha’ was able to be shouted, Dawson had emphatically despatched the rebound. Surely the best 20 minutes of football Wolves have managed for many a game, week, month or even seasons. Wolves were two up and no one would argue the value of the lead.
Liverpool couldn’t stay quite as bad and the Wolves energy couldn’t possibly be maintained. The lead was secured, the necessity to be on the front foot relaxed. Wolves were able to control the game more, out passing their counterparts and retaining possession. A rare chance for Liverpool saw Nunes go clear, his curling shot from close range was kept out by a diving Jose Sa, in what was the only real moment of concern for Wolves throughout the first half. As pleasing as the score line was, Wolves should have gone in to half time with a third. Matheus Nunes was able to pick the pocket of last man Matip and bear down on goal. It looked for all the world that Matheus would give Alisson the far post eyes and drag the ball round the keeper, but instead his shot was tamely struck straight at Alisson. A third goal would not have flattered a Wolves team who left the field to a standing ovation at a noisy Molineux.
If Wolves had shown their attacking teeth in the first half, the second half was the defences time to shine. Liverpool started the second half clearly in the ascendency. There was more energy, more willingness to press and for long periods, Wolves simply could not find a way for the ball to stick. Reaching again into the bag of clichés, 2-0 is a dangerous score line. Had Wolves had been breached here, any result still looked possible. Deeper and deeper went the Wolves midfield. They had to find a way of retaining possession as attack played defence. In the midst of this debutant Dawson looked everywhere. He looked every bit the established Premier League centre half, trained over many years to be in the right place at the right time and do the simple things well. His only error in the game was an odd one. A pass, which looked destined for no one was intercepted and his rectification attempt a mile away from an on rushing Liverpool attack. Sa again called into one on one action to again deny Nunes. The only other moment of real concern saw a break down the Liverpool left find Keita. His delayed and rather tame shot however was scrambled away. A Kilman hand excused by a ricochet. Not even VAR could save Liverpool here. The storm needed to be ridden. It was and Wolves found a sucker knockout punch.
An injured Hwang had been replaced by Adama at the end of the first half and as Wolves tried to get control back of the game, Moutinho and Raul replaced Cunha and Sarabia. There was a difference. Another body in the tenacious Moutinho allowed Wolves to recover and keep the ball more and more often, whilst Raul was able to retain the ball and provide respite. The killer blow would be made by the industriousness of Moutinho winning the ball in midfield. Having robbed Liverpool of possession, he had the opportunity to look up and see Adama in space. Moutinho would have known that this ball did not need to be perfect. Put it beyond Traore and his pace does the rest and so it proved. Adama sent a little wide was onto the pass in flash and bearing down on the corner of the penalty box. We have seen this before of course, this can lead to anything but seldom a goal. But Adama was composed, he waits. Suddenly the captain and king of Molineux appears bursting through the middle of the pitch. The long range crackerjacks will be how Neves is remembered, but this looked every bit as iconic. The desire, the energy, the skill. As Neves flowing locks and forceful determination burst beyond the Liverpool midfield and into the penalty area, Adama ends the wait and passes into the run of Neves. A first touch every bit as divine as his Kingly status, perfectly positioned him a few yards out to pick his spot into the corner. Game over. The King celebrates with his people. He points to his head in the typical and long standing Neves celebration, but he could have been pointing to his crown adorned on top of his head. This is his Kingdom and we are his willing servants.
Whilst the game was won with twenty minutes to go. Wolves remained disciplined and controlled the game up to the last five minutes and should have ended the game with another goal. Adama again bursting forward from deep with a Wolves overload. His pass again perfect for Jiminez who appeared to only have to guide the ball beyond a stranded Alison. Raul’s attempted Ariel Ortega style chip was poorly executed and Wolves declared at three. Something else happened after that. Wolves got their swagger on. The crowd full of ‘ole’s’. How many passes .. 50? 60?.. Any Wolves fan would be forgiven for thinking that this was a dream that they were about to be rudely awaken from. Liverpool comfortably put to the sword. Three goals in a game, at home, beating Liverpool and here are the ‘ole’s’. The team had looked like it needed confidence just a few weeks ago, must surely now be filled to the brim. This was grandstanding of the highest order. A standing ovation well deserved.
Wolves ended the evening in 15th. A team that had looked defeated and bereft only a few weeks ago, now looked reinvigorated and completely transformed. The win was special. Special because of the opponents. Special because of the way in which it was accomplished. Special because of the requirement of points. There were some fine individual performances here but the team were all required in different phases and everyone delivered when called upon. Southampton await Wolves at the start of a run of fixtures that Wolves must capitalise on, they cannot waste what they have achieved here by missing out to fellow strugglers. On today’s evidence though, eyes will be looking up the table, not downwards.
ARTICLE BY DAVE PORTER
Wolverhampton born, East Sussex based supporter. Old enough to have seen the descent to the bottom, young enough to not have experienced the days my friend. Not many Wolves fans to celebrate or commiserate with round these parts, so had to find an outlet to discuss the enormous highs, crushing lows and share the frustrations that only come with following Wolves.