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Van Dijk immense as Reds prove to be the gift that keeps on giving

Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool are the gift that keeps on giving.

Another hard-fought victory, another cherished clean sheet and another major hurdle cleared in their pursuit of the Holy Grail.

The Reds will sit top of the Premier League table on Christmas Day and nights like this will serve to fuel the belief that they will still be looking down on their rivals long after the decorations have been packed away.

This is a team with the perfect combination of silk and steel. There's quality in abundance but there's also a work ethic and a unity which is driving them on.

A seventh successive league win was secured with ruthless efficiency. Title rivals Manchester City stumbled at Molineux, but Liverpool swept a resurgent Wolves aside.

A rain-sodden assignment laced with danger was negotiated not with full throttle football but with a composed performance brimming with maturity and discipline.

This is the new Liverpool that Klopp has built. No silly risks, no crazy scorelines. Now they play with real control.

What was once a glaring weakness is now a remarkable strength. Their defensive resilience came to the fore once again in the Midlands.

Virgil van Dijk was absolutely immense. The most expensive defender in the world has proved over the course of 2018 that he's also the most gifted.

The £75million man finally ended his wait for a first Premier League goal for the Reds to get the festive season off to a flyer.

Van Dijk wrapped up the points in the second half after Mohamed Salah had broken the deadlock in style.

Normal service has been resumed. The record-breaking Egyptian is once again top of the Premier League scoring charts with 11 goals to his name.

What this team has achieved in the first half of the season is extraordinary.

A tally of 48 points from 18 league matches, including 11 clean sheets, is unprecedented in the club's 126-year history.

Klopp boasts such depth that Xherdan Shaqiri's reward for his match-winning heroics against Manchester United was the night off.

On three previous occasions in the Premier League era Liverpool have been top at Christmas and failed to stay there. But they didn't have a squad like this.

Different questions keep getting asked of the class of 2018/19 and they keep coming up with the answers.

The biggest crowd at Molineux since 1981 were treated to a festive pyrotechnics show before kick-off as a DJ pumped out dance music.

Wolves, who had won their previous three games, were suitably pumped up and showed why they have already taken points off City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United.

Nuno Espirito Santo's side packed a punch with the creative talents of Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves.

There was an early scare for the Reds when Fabinho's sloppy pass was intercepted and Adama Traore fired wide.

Traore's pace and strength caused problems and he dragged another attempt off target after being released by Raul Jimenez.

Hearts were in mouths when Alisson Becker spilled Romain Saiss' strike but Fabinho was on hand to hack to safety.

To their credit, there was no hint of Liverpool being rattled. They stuck to their principles as they kept playing it out confidently from the back.

The midfield axis of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson – starting together for the first time in Klopp's 4-2-3-1 formation – began to exert some control. Henderson repaid the manager's faith with a tireless shift after being handed his 300 appearance for the club.

Liverpool made the breakthrough with a gloriously worked goal on 19 minutes.

When Salah's free-kick was half cleared there appeared to be little danger. But Dejan Lovren fed it to Fabinho, who played a slick one-two with Sadio Mane.

Rather than fizz it across goal, Fabinho intelligently looked up and spotted that Salah had darted away from his marker.

The Brazilian picked him out and Salah dispatched a classy finish with the outside of his left boot.

Much has been made about Salah's low key goal celebrations so far this season but the self-appointed body language experts can take Christmas off. His beaming smile lit up Molineux before the Egyptian jumped into the welcoming arms of Van Dijk.

James Milner's effort from the edge of the box was well held by Rui Patricio as Liverpool sought greater reward.

The goal served to quieten the home fans, who got increasingly frustrated. They demanded a penalty when Matt Doherty tumbled over Milner's challenge but Craig Pawson got that one spot on.

Kopites endured flashbacks of Leicester away when Alisson decided to do a Cruyft turn on the edge of his own box. Jimenez was inches away from dispossessing the Reds' No 1, who then thwarted Doherty after an error from Naby Keita.

What was most impressive about the second half was the manner in which Liverpool simply took the sting out of the game. They played it as their pace as they kept possession for long periods and didn't give Wolves a sniff.

Salah lashed narrowly over before Adam Lallana replaced the tiring Keita, who had taken a battering.

Van Dijk, who won his aerial battles and knocked the ball around nonchalantly, stood tall. When Traore tried to dart away from him, the Dutchman not only out-paced him but out-muscled him too.

As Wolves grew ever desperate, more space opened up. Salah and Mane combined to tee up Lallana, but a combination of former Reds youngster Conor Coady and Patricio kept it out.

Midway through the second half Liverpool doubled their account. Saiss' clearance from a corner was pounced on by Salah, who clipped a pin-point delivery into the box.

Van Dijk was lurking and he coolly guided a volley beyond Patricio before being mobbed by his team-mates.

Saiss and Morgan Gibbs-White squandered chances to set up a nervy finale, while Salah and Gini Wijnaldum could have increased the margin of victory.

'Liverpool, top of the league', crowed the away end. That chant is getting louder with every passing week.

The Klopp juggernaut rolls on.

MATCH FACTS

If big Virgil was a DJ, he'd be on Smooth Radio

Wolves: Patricio, Bennett, Coady, Boly, Doherty, Saiss, Neves, Moutinho (Gibbs-White 63), Jonny (Vinagre 81), Traore (Cavaleiro 63), Jimenez.

Not used: Ruddy, Costa, Dendoncker, Bonatini.

Liverpool: Alisson, Milner, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson, Fabinho, Henderson, Keita (Lallana 58), Salah, Firmino (Wijnaldum 76), Mane (Clyne 87).

Not used: Mignolet, Sturridge, Shaqiri, Origi.

Referee: Craig Pawson

Attendance: 31,358

Goals: Salah 18, Van Dijk 68

Bookings: none

Man of the match: Virgil van Dijk. A colossus.

Copyright - The Liverpool Echo

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Liverpool player ratings - Mohamed Salah shines and Wolves fail to expose Virgil van Dijk
Goals from Salah and Van Dijk see Liverpool stay top of the Premier League at Christmas

By Ian Doyle Liverpool reporter
22:02, 21 DEC 2018

Alisson Becker 7
Saved twice from Saiss, saw a few Traore shots flash wide and held a Doherty drive. Could have done without the Cruyff turn in the slippery conditions, despite Jimenez being befuddled.

James Milner 7
Struck a solid drive at Patricio on a first-half forward foray but this was a real defensive effort. Worked so hard, at times without much protection ahead of him.

Virgil van Dijk 9
Wolves looked to expose the Dutchman against the pace of Traore, who was promptly subbed. Won so many headers and finally scored his first Premier League goal for the Reds..

Dejan Lovren 7
Fell over once and later missed his kick completely, but contributed sufficient resourceful blocks and tackles. So much for that curse, eh.

Andy Robertson 7
Such endeavour down the left as always but wasn't required to overlap as often as usual first half, but was back at after the interval. Got away with a late error when Gibbs-White hit the side-netting.

Fabinho 8
Escaped after an early sloppy square pass but soon in his stride and played a huge part in creating the opener. Drove forward first half and helped keep things solid afterwards.

Jordan Henderson 8
Not quite as advanced as Fabinho in the midfield two but was tidy and kept Liverpool ticking over nicely. Rarely wasted a pass. A more than decent skipper's knock.

Sadio Mane 7
Knew he more often than not had the beating of his marker and was involved heavily in Salah's opener. Integral as Liverpool looked to break in the final quarter.

Roberto Firmino 7
Revelled at times in the space between the lines, his clever touches opening up the game for his team-mates. A little inconsistent in possession, though.

Naby Keita 6
Noticeably more advanced down the left than at the weekend, but took a few bruises and failed to properly recover from a first-half knock to the hip. Subbed.

Mohamed Salah 9
Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring the opening goal of the game during the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Liverpool FC
A joy to watch on this form. Took his goal so well and his overall play was electric, the Egyptian not giving the Wolves defence a moment's peace. His assist for Van Dijk wasn't bad either.

Substitutes
Adam Lallana (for Keita 58) 6
Saw a shot blocked by a combination of Coady and Patricio.
Gini Wijnaldum (for Firmino 76) 6
Did okay. Nearly scored.
Nathaniel Clyne (for Mane 87)
Will have been delighted the rain had eased significantly by the time of his introduction.

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