Liverpool verdict - Reds exhausted but magnificent boast draws nearer after Wolves win
Paul Gorst's match verdict on an afternoon of VAR controversy, Anthony Taylor antics and attritional action as Liverpool beat Wolves 1-0
ByPaul GorstLiverpool FC correspondent
19:59, 29 DEC 2019
After a thrilling, swashbuckling and trophy-winning December edged ever closer to the decade’s end, Liverpool’s battery finally ran out at Anfield.
With the thrilling Boxing Day blitz of Leicester following up the successful, yet draining trip to Qatar for the Club World Cup, this was always likely to be a more attritional affair.
Resources have been stretched to near breaking point and a meeting with the upwardly mobile Wolves was a real test.
Despite the sapping few weeks, however, an exhausted Liverpool have somehow refused to yield an inch.
Another big step was taken towards the title here as the home side squeezed out a narrow 1-0 triumph that continues their apparent procession to the trophy.
It is now 82 points taken from 84 available dating back to the draw against Everton back in March. A remarkably consistent return that puts them head and shoulders clear at the top.
VAR actually checked two things for Sadio Mane goal for Liverpool against Wolves
Liverpool were not at their best here, how could they be after such a hectic and difficult run of fixtures across a jam-packed month of action? One thing that is always present in this team, though, is its resolute ability to dig in, grind and emerge with the result they want.
Here it was again, helping a below par Reds over the line to re-establish their 13-point advantage of second-place Leicester in the table. In doing so, they became just the second team in the Premier League era to go 50 games unbeaten at home.
Jurgen Klopp had described the predicament of teams playing twice in the space of two days over Christmas as a "crime" on Christmas Eve as he urged more consideration for the professionals asked to perform at their peak during the often punishing festive spell.
Wolves were one of the teams who were afflicted by such an issue as they visited Anfield less than 48 hours after a pulsating victory over Manchester City. Liverpool, in contrast, were afforded an extra day of rest having last turned out at Leicester on Boxing Day.
Wolves' team selection laid bare just how difficult that comeback against City was as likable boss Nuno Espirito Santo made four changes for the visit, with two of his big-hitters in Adama Traore and Raul Jimenez left on the bench.
Mohamed Salah almost scored a sensational goal when he met Sadio Mane's flick on from Virgil van Dijk's long pass with a first-time volley. It was well struck but Rui Patricio held it.
Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino then had two quick-fire half chances before the half-hour mark as the Reds struggled to create anything by the way of a clear-cut opportunity.
Liverpool's opener did arrive before half time, however, when Mane tapped home past Patricio. The goal was not without its controversy. Referee Anthony Taylor immediately chalked it off for a handball in the build up from Adam Lallana.
VAR was summoned for as the officials in Stockley Park got to work on finding the definitive call.
Liverpool are not LiVARpool but Wolves have right to be angry despite Neto celebration
Attempts to find an offside infringement fell short after it was decreed that Lallana had moved the ball into Mane's path with his shoulder.
Wolves fans raged about the call, howling: "It's not football anymore" before the TV signal was thrown up from Taylor to indicate the goal was given. His decision was overturned and the lead was Liverpool's.
The visiting supporters' bleating will have cut little ice for the Reds. VAR has been a fickle friend to Liverpool this season and Anthony Taylor's officiating has already rankled hugely.
If Wolves felt aggrieved by Mane's winner, they were apoplectic when Pedro Neto's equaliser was taken away by a marginal offside call. The Portuguese winger celebrated like he had sealed the Champions League trophy only to see his effort wiped off moments later. Offside by a whisker. That’s happened to Liverpool this season, too.
The screen inside the stadium shows that the goal of Pedro Neto of Wolverhampton Wanderers is disallowed for offside
Wherever you stand on the use of video technology in Premier League football, there can be no denying it has eroded the pleasure found in the instant joy of scoring a goal. Both players and fans now meet legitimate goals with relief over elation. That simply cannot be right, whoever you support.
"For me, it's not working," urged Wolves captain Connor Coady at full time. "Today I don't want to speak about it. I just don't want to," offered his manager, Nuno. There will be plenty who will echo those sentiments, regardless of their allegiance.
"Sometimes you are lucky, sometimes you are unlucky but it is part of football," was the diplomatic response from Sadio Mane.
After the restart Firmino went close to breaking his season-long Anfield duck with a volley that was flashed into the Kop as Nuno sent on the in-form Traore in search of more attacking threat.
The usually unflappable Virgil van Dijk was robbed of possession on the edge of his own box by Diogo Jota as Wolves sensed a way back into the game, but Alisson Becker came to the rescue with a huge save to preserve Liverpool's lead.
Klopp sent on Divock Origi and James Milner as a tired-looking Liverpool tried to hold what they had. Little was created in the second half as Wolves did the pressing for much of the final third.
Despite the exhaustive month of football that has seen Liverpool play in the Champions League, Premier League, Carabao Cup and Club World Cup, the Reds held firm.
The sight of Van Dijk heading clear a 94th-minute corner was greeted with a huge cheer as the hapless Taylor blew for full time.
This result means Liverpool sign off for the calendar year with just one Premier League defeat - away at Manchester City, nearly a full year ago.
A proud feather in Klopp's cap, no doubt, but there's an even more magnificent boast that is getting closer for him and his team.
This was no a classic, but it was never going to be. What mattered was another sizable points return on the road to league title No.19. There are fewer and fewer roadblocks on that path as Liverpool cruise into 2020.
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