Criticism of Jurgen Klopp should be muted as Premier League title remains priority
Liverpool verdict - Criticism of Jurgen Klopp should be muted as Premier League title remains priority
Klopp was slammed for making a number of changes, but James Pearce believes the Liverpool boss shouldn't worry about FA Cup exit at Wolves
By James Pearce
23:19, 7 JAN 2019
James Pearce reacts to Liverpool knocked out of the FA cup after Wolves defeat
Disrespect or merely common sense?
Some will undoubtedly point an accusing finger at Jurgen Klopp after Liverpool crashed out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle.
The Reds boss picked a reserve team and got a second rate performance as Wolves deservedly marched into the fourth round at Molinuex.
For a club without a trophy since 2012 and a manager without silverware during his Anfield reign, any opportunity that's squandered to put that right hurts.
This was the fourth successive season under Klopp that the seven-times winners have endured a painfully early and avoidable exit.
But on this occasion criticism really should be muted. Even the doom and gloom merchants need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. In fact they just need to look at the Premier League table.
The reality is that Liverpool are chasing a much greater prize this time around. With his side four points clear, Klopp was merely doing what he felt was required to maximise their chances of title glory.
A gamble? Klopp will argue that giving key personnel a breather wasn't a choice but a necessity after such a gruelling festive schedule.
Deliver the Holy Grail come May and this miserable defeat will barely get a passing mention. Win at Brighton on Saturday and that sense of frustration will quickly lift.
The FA Cup was always a distant third priority behind the Premier League and the Champions League and Liverpool played like it.
On a night when three young debutants stepped up and delivered, it was those senior players on the fringes who flopped badly.
Rather than stake a claim for more regular action, they showed exactly why their game time has been limited.
Naby Keita endured another false start in his bid to ignite his Liverpool career as the £52million midfielder failed to stamp his authority on proceedings, while Alberto Moreno and Daniel Sturridge also struggled.
Briefly, there was hope after Divock Origi cancelled out Raul Jimenez's opener but Ruben Neves slammed home a fine winner.
Dejan Lovren was one of the few regulars not to be given a rest and he didn't even have time to work up a sweat before he went down clutching his hamstring.
With fellow centre-backs Joe Gomez and Joel Matip still sidelined, Liverpool are facing a defensive crisis.
But for 16-year-old Ki-Jana Hoever, who came off the bench to replace Lovren, this would have been an instantly forgettable night at Molineux.
The Dutch teenager, who joined the Reds from Ajax last summer, became the third youngest player in the club's history and showed maturity and composure beyond his years.
Academy graduates Curtis Jones and Rafa Camacho, who both started the tie, could also hold their heads high after being thrown in at the deep end.
James Milner and Lovren were the only players retained from the 2-1 defeat to Manchester City four days earlier as Alisson Becker, Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson, Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson were all given the night off.
Adam Lallana's hopes of kick-starting his season were dashed after he picked up a knock in training.
Liverpool were forced into a change inside six minutes after Lovren walked off dejected.
Hoever came on to make his debut at centre-back alongside Fabinho. Liverpool's backline contained two teenagers, a midfielder playing out of position and a left-back who will leave as a free agent this summer. They were playing in front of a keeper making his first appearance for four months.
To his immense credit, Hoever didn't look out of place and seemed unfazed by his surroundings.
Hoever, who was born four days before Danny Murphy's memorable winner for the Reds at Old Trafford in January 2002, was calm in possession and held his own physically. The problem was that around him there was far too much mediocrity.
The first half was dour. Liverpool were horribly disjointed and Wolves looked strangely reluctant to commit bodies forward to try to take advantage.
With Milner and Keita protecting the back four, Jones was positioned on the left with Xherdan Shaqiri on the right and Sturridge in behind Origi.
However, Liverpool struggled to create anything of note. How they missed the pace and ingenuity of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
Jones produced one delightful piece of skill to get away from Jonny down the left but his cross was too close to John Ruddy, while Shaqiri dragged wide after capitalising on a defensive mix up.
Hoever made a crucial interception to prevent Diogo Jota from latching on to Jimenez's pass before Simon Mignolet clung on to Jonny's strike from a tight angle.
Liverpool still looked relatively comfortable but they shot themselves in the foot seven minutes before the break. It was a comedy of errors.
The blundering Moreno gave Milner a pass he didn't want close to halfway and the ball squirmed away from the stand-in skipper. Fabinho slid in but didn't get there and Jota sent Jimenez scampering away on the counter.
Rather than dart across to Jimenez, Milner bizarrely stuck by Jota in the middle so the Mexican had all the time he wanted to pick his spot past Mignolet.
Six minutes into the second half Liverpool restored parity. Origi had been a passenger until that point but belatedly he sprung to life.
After Milner's shot was blocked, Origi shifted it on to his left foot and unleashed a fierce drive from the edge of the box which flew past Ruddy.
It was the Belgium international's second goal of the season. Klopp's wild reaction to his dramatic winner in the Merseyside derby cost him £8,000, this time around the Reds boss stood motionless on the touchline with his hands in his pockets. He was probably fearing a replay.
Liverpool were back on level terms for just four minutes. The Reds were slow to close down Neves and he took full advantage as he unleashed a 25-yarder which arrowed into the bottom corner.
Suddenly, it was a proper cup tie with space opening up at both ends as the Reds threw caution to the wind.
Shaqiri was inches away from bagging a stunning equaliser as he curled a free-kick over the wall. Ruddy tipped it on to the inside of the post and somehow the ball stayed out.
With 20 minutes to go Klopp called for the cavalry as he brought on Salah and Firmino for Jones and Sturridge.
Wolves dropped increasingly deep as Liverpool dominated possession but they failed to do much with it.
Hoever tried to make something happen, shrugging off Helder Costa and bursting away from Ivan Cavaleiro before finding Shaqiri. Salah could have salvaged a replay but his effort was blocked and nodded away to safety.
"You're not singing any more," crowed the Wolves fans late on. "Liverpool top of the league," countered the travelling Kop. That's the bigger picture.
Wolves: Ruddy, Bennett, Coady, Boly, Jonny (Doherty 74), Neves, Dendoncker, Moutinho, Vinagre, Jota (Cavaleiro 52), Jimenez (Costa 83).
Not used: Norris, Gibbs-White, Saiss, Traore.
Liverpool: Mignolet, Camacho, Fabinho, Lovren (Hoever 6), Moreno, Milner, Keita, Jones (Salah 70), Shaqiri, Sturridge (Firmino 70), Origi.
Not used: Kelleher, Mane, Christie-Davies, Alexander-Arnold.
Referee: Paul Tierney
Goals: Jimenez 38, Origi 51, Neves 55
Man of the match: Ki-Jana Hoever. The 16-year-old defender could hold his head high.
Liverpool player ratings vs Wolves - Hoever and Fabinho shine but Keita fails to take chance
Reds dumped out of the FA Cup in the third round after Jurgen Klopp made a number of changes to his team
Simon Mignolet 6
Left stranded for the opener and unale to stop a rasping second. That could be his swansong after five years at Anfield.
Rafa Camacho 6
Clearly targeted as the weak link of the side, the Portuguese teenager was busy, but not overawed, despite Lovren's early exit. One long-range shot was a waste though.
After seeing central defensive partner Dejan Lovren disappear in the early stages, the versatile Brazilian might have expected a long night out of position as a makeshift centre-half alongside a 16-year-old. Didn't put a foot wrong though all game. One of his best performances for the club all things considered.
Dejan Lovren N/A
Pulled up lame inside the first five minutes to be replaced by Ki-Jana Hoever.
Alberto Moreno 6
Defended ably and offered his usual energy and drive going forward. A decent showing from the Spaniard in a back four that is likely to one day become a quiz question.
James Milner 5
Perhaps at fault for the opener and let that affect the rest of his performance. The senior pro was strangely unable to help out his less experienced team-mates. An off-night for the veteran.
Naby Keita 5
Lost the ball in a dangerous area and forced Milner to take a booking for a cynical foul in the first half. Too often went long spells without the ball and failed to exert any influence.
Curtis Jones 6
Stationed on the left of what is a fluid formation, the Liverpool-born teenager showed no signs of nerves and appeared confident on the ball without ever really threatening too much. Perhaps tired somewhat in the second period. His time will come again.
Xherdan Shaqiri 5
A subdued first half and fared only marginally better in the second period. He's been a revelation since signing but this was an evening to forget, even allowing for a wonderful free-kick that clipped the post.
Daniel Sturridge 5
Quality was evident every time he had the ball, but it wasn't frequent enough. Was often left to try and win headers from long balls. Not his game, not his night. Withdrawn.
Divock Origi 6
Breathed life back into his side with an excellent equaliser. The Belgian has come up with the goods before this season, and this was another timely intervention. Faded after that, though.
Ki-Jana Hoever 7
What a night for the 16-year-old Dutchman. Didn't appear ruffled in the early going and fizzed a few nice passes forward. Nearly caught off by Jimenez in the second half, but a good performance on his senior debut. Most definitelty one for the future.
Mo Salah 6
Not a bad substitute to turn to, the Egyptian came on in place of Curtis Jones and immediately gave Liverpool more of a threat. One goal-bound appeared had to be headed clear after a razor-sharp break.
Roberto Firmino 6
Tried to get on the ball in a No.10 role but too often bypassed by team-mates. The in-form Brazilian wasn't able to get close enough to Wolves' goal to make a telling impact.
Copyright - The Liverpool Echo