Roberto Firmino’s late winner keeps Liverpool’s freakish run going at Wolves
Paul Doyle at Molineux
First published on Thu 23 Jan 2020 22.01 GMT
This happens so often one would almost think it is normal. But what Liverpool are doing this season is freakish. Here they withstood ferocious pressure from Wolves before claiming their 22nd victory from 23 Premier League matches, stretching their lead at the top of table to 16 points.
In an exhilarating contest Wolves put Jürgen Klopp’s team through the wringer, threatening to explode their invincibility after Raúl Jiménez cancelled out Jordan Henderson’s first half-goal. But, as ever, Liverpool found a way to prevail even though they lost Sadio Mané to a suspected hamstring injury in the first half. Roberto Firmino, who had been subdued for long periods, struck six minutes from time to extend an extraordinary record that owes as much to iron will as it does to silky skill.
Henderson personified those attributes so it was fitting that he set up the winning goal by dabbing a sly pass through to Firmino. The Brazilian had missed his first good chance of the match a few minutes earlier but this time his finish was impeccable, as he glided past a defender before slamming a left-foot shot into the top corner from eight yards.
This time last year Wolves beat a second-string Liverpool 2-1 here to oust them from the FA Cup four days after Klopp’s first-choice team had lost by the same score at Manchester City. That latter match ultimately decided the outcome of last season’s title race but also, by hardening Liverpool’s focus, set in train this season’s seemingly relentless pursuit of glory. Nobody has beaten them in the league since then. Wolves came closer than most.
Nuno Espírito Santo named the same side that started Saturday’s phenomenal fightback against Southampton and was happy to be able to include Willy Boly and Diogo Jota after long injury layoffs during which Wolves’ small squad have thrilled while making light of a heavy workload.
In their 40th match of an epic season they went for the jugular from the start. In the fourth minute Trent Alexander-Arnold was so overwhelmed he resorted to pulling back Jonny Otto. João Moutinho sent the free-kick from the left across the face of goal, tantalisingly out of reach of the attackers straining to apply a decisive touch. But two minutes later Alexander-Arnold did what he does best, offering a beautiful delivery, from a corner, to Henderson, who headed the ball on to his shoulder and into the net from six yards. It was not the cleanest connection but the way Liverpool’s captain won the ball in a crowded box spoke of his powerful drive as well as of Alexander-Arnold’s accuracy. Henderson continued to direct Liverpool’s operations with busy authority.
Moutinho did likewise for Wolves, and Liverpool were far from dominant. They were downright slapdash in the 11th minute when Wolves outwitted them with a short corner. They were lucky Matt Doherty headed wide from eight yards.
Wolves, specialists in winning after falling behind, were never going to be weakened by doubt. Adama Traoré was a spectacular menace. After one of his runs and crosses Alexander-Arnold had to throw himself in front of a shot by Jiménez. Then Liverpool hurtled down the other end and Mané floated a pass from the left to Mohamed Salah, who chose not to shoot with his right foot, instead cutting back on to his left, which allowed Jonny and Rui Patrício to block his shot.
Mané limped off soon after and had to be replaced in the 33rd minute by Takumi Minamino. The Japanese might have marked his Premier League debut with a goal if Salah had passed to him just before the break but the Egyptian chose to go it alone and Doherty got in the way. Minamino was bypassed for most of the rest of the game, too. This pulsating contest amounted to a heck of an introduction to the Premier League.
Salah created a chance for himself just after the interval, losing the ball to Traoré but then pinching it back and blasting at goal from 16 yards. Patrício saved. Then Jiménez and Traoré gave a masterful lesson in forward play.
First the Mexican duped Andy Robertson with a canny feint and dash near half way, then he slipped a pass into the gap left by the Scot. Traoré took the cue and raced on to the ball, then clipped a perfect cross back to Jiménez, who guided a sumptuous header past Alisson. It took something special to deny Liverpool an eighth consecutive clean sheet.
Wolves were not sated. Within moments Traoré flew past Robertson again. The frazzled left-back stretched out a leg to take him down just outside the box, happy to accept a yellow card rather than concede a goal or a penalty.
For a while Wolves threatened to take over. Alisson had to turn away a shot by Traoré in the 62nd minute. Five minutes later Traoré showed his subtle side, threading a lovely pass through to Jiménez. Alisson stood firm again.
Then, just as home fans sensed another famous win, Firmino came to the fore and a swashbuckling encounter ended with a result that has become amazingly routine.
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