Liverpool v Wolves Cheat Sheet
Liverpool v Wolves
Saturday night sees Wolves travel to Merseyside to Anfield to face off with Liverpool in the third round of the FA Cup. Both teams enter the competition at this stage as is tradition for Premier League and Championship clubs and therefore this is the first game for Liverpool as they try to defend their title after they beat Chelsea 6-5 on penalties at Wembley in May. Liverpool have been very disappointing in the league so far this season, and this was summed up on the weekend with a 3-1 loss at Brentford, keeping them outside of the top four. Wolves have brought in Julian Lopetegui as manager over the winter break to try and combat their terrible pre-World Cup form and they have picked up four points in their three games over the Christmas schedule.
Last season Liverpool were arriving into this competition with dreams of the quadruple, dreams that were there until almost the end of the season. Whilst they failed to win the Premier League and Champions League, they did end up with both domestic cups and would have hoped for a similar season here. However, after starting the season winless in three, picking up just one point, their fans were quickly brought back to reality. They come into this one sixth in the league with Arsenal having taken their position as Manchester City’s title challengers, and they will be looking to the FA Cup as their most realistic opportunity for trophies this season, having been knocked out of the EFL Cup by Manchester City. They have not got the best record in the FA Cup despite winning it eight times and they have bowed out in this round in four of their last seven years. They also lost at this stage to Wolves in 2018/19. A major concern for Jurgen Klopp is Virgil van Dijk, who came off with an injury in their loss to Brentford and is now dealing with a hamstring injury. Also out for this one are Arthur, Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota but James Milner, Roberto Firmino and Jordan Henderson could be back. Reds fans will be excited by the arrival of their new signing Cody Gakpo, who should be starting his first game here because of their many injuries going forward.
Bruno Lage had started well at Wolves last season but after spending £100m in the summer, the Wolves hierarchy would have been hoping for a fast start before the break. However, after a 2-0 loss at West Ham, he was relieved of his duties as a result of just one win in 15 in the Premier League. Steve Davis was given the role on a short-term basis until the break, but he managed just one league win in his seven Premier League games in charge and whilst the World Cup was on in Qatar, they appointed former Sevilla manager Julian Lopetegui. He’d have been delighted with his first match in charge as Ait-Nouri scored in stoppage time to beat Liverpool’s bitter rivals Everton. He’d have been disappointed with his first home game in charge as they conceded a 76th minute goal to lose 1-0 against Manchester United. He’d have also been gutted with their 1-1 draw to Aston Villa after substitute Adama Traore had a big chance to take the game to 2-0 with 20 minutes to go before they conceded minutes later to Danny Ings. Wolves will have been gutted to lose the goal scorer in that match, Daniel Podence, at half time who came off with a knock, although he could be available here – even if he is unlikely to be risked given it is the cup. Boubacar Traore, Chqiuinho, Pedro Neto and Sasa Kalajdzic continue to be out for this one but there is likely to be a full debut for Matheus Cunha, who has joined on loan from Atletico Madrid.
Liverpool have struggled to keep clean sheets throughout the season and have not kept one in the four games since their return, conceding eight in that time. In the league, they have not kept a clean sheet since West Ham on the 19th October. They’re going to be without Virgil van Dijk here and so are going to be even more vulnerable at the back. Having said that, whilst big money striker Darwin Nunez has missed plenty of big chances over the course of the season, they have managed to score eight since the restart and in every game since Nottingham Forest away on the 22nd October. At home, they have scored in every match this season other than against Derby in the EFL Cup with a heavily rotated side. Over 2.5 has landed in six of their nine home league games this season, and they have had at least 1.5 expected goals in each of those games, whilst conceding at least one expected goal in seven of them. They do not have the depth to rotate too much up front whilst Jota and Diaz are out and Firmino is a doubt, so they should stick with Salah and Nunez up front with Gakpo likely to start. Klopp has also said they will field a strong team as a result of poor form and the rest of a week after this one.
Last season Wolves were a team that weren’t expected to score many goals but wouldn’t concede many either under Bruno Lage. However, their defence became leakier at the start of this season and they couldn’t find more goals and the Portuguese manager was sacked. They were unlucky that new signing Kalajdzic tore his ACL almost instantaneously and brought in Diego Costa but he has not reached the heights of his Chelsea days and is yet to score this season. They have conceded 27 and scored just 11 in their Premier League games so far this campaign. They are yet to keep a clean sheet on the road so far this season, and given that they are going to Anfield, they are unlikely to do so here. There were only two goals in the game against Aston Villa but Adama Traore and Danny Ings both missed big chances for either team in the second half and there could have been more. New signing Cunha has not scored so far this season but he has been reduced to substitute appearances and only started twice for a poor Atletico Madrid side. He has shown he is capable of scoring goals in Spain and Germany in years gone by. Lopetegui has also complained that this will be Wolves’ third game in six days, suggesting he may rotate and that may be something that Liverpool will hope to pounce upon.
The signing of Cody Gakpo has provided some hope for Liverpool fans in what has been a very disappointing season in terms of their recent high standards, and it came out of nowhere with no press rumours or speculation. He has certainly impressed recently in the Eredivisie, last season hitting 12 goals and 12 assists in 22 starts (27 appearances) and has built on that this season. He has already matched the number of assists and scored nine goals in just 14 matches in the league, and he’ll be hoping to build on that.
For PSV this season, he managed three goals and two assists in just five appearances and 368 minutes in the group stage. This included an assist against league leaders Arsenal. Across the last three seasons, he has played 14 times in international club competitions and has registered eight goals and four assists in that time. For his country he has already scored six goals in just 14 appearances, including one in each of the group stage matches in the World Cup. In his eight starts for the Netherlands since June, he has scored five times and registered one assist, showing that he can play well on the global stage rather than just in the Netherlands. He is not a certainty to start here given that he has not been at the club for too long but Jurgen Klopp should see this as an opportunity to introduce him to the home fans and ease him in.
Matheus Cunha has joined Wolves on an initial loan deal with an obligation to buy in the summer for £43 million, regardless of what division they are in so there is plenty of pressure on him to hit the ground running this January. There were big things hoped for him after his initial first few seasons in the Bundesliga where he managed seven goals in his first season in the Bundesliga, averaging 2.81 shots per game. He moved to Atletico Madrid and despite scoring six times he wasn’t given too many opportunities. Over the course of his career, he has averaged 3.31 shots per 90 minutes, hitting 204 shots with 86 on target from 115 matches played. He managed one shot at Aston Villa in the 25 minutes he got off the bench in midweek. He’ll be looking to impress if he’s given his first start and he should be given plenty of opportunities with Liverpool’s current defensive frailties.
Matheus Nunes has impressed for Wolves since signing from Sporting Lisbon in the summer, but he also is prone to fouling players. He conceded 39 last season in the Portuguese League, and 63 across the two seasons before that in just 21 starts. In the Premier League he has conceded 18 fouls in just 13 starts. He committed two at Aston Villa in midweek and conceded two in his only start in just 64 minutes in his only start in the World Cup against South Korea. In the Premier League, he has committed at least one foul in 10 of his 13 starts and committed four at Bournemouth. He has committed at least two in six of his 11 most recent league starts. Thiago and Harvey Elliott in Liverpool’s midfield are their two most fouled players and the Portuguese man is likely going to try and disrupt their control of the game.
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