Liverpool v Wolves: Inside track on the Reds

Wolves face Premier League champions Liverpool next in the top flight, get to know the Reds here.

Liverpool's Andrew Robertson waits for the physio
Liverpool's Andrew Robertson waits for the physio

We spoke with Joel Rabinowitz, from Liverpool.com, and John Gibbons, from The Anfield Wrap, to get a better look at Jurgen Klopp's side.

See what he had to say here...

How has the season been so far for Liverpool, it appears injuries have really hit the club hard?

JR: In one word: weird.

Having won the league by such a huge margin last season, somehow they managed to strengthen even further in the summer and went into this campaign with arguably the most complete squad in Europe.

Since then, the squad has been continually ravaged by injuries, with the first choice centre-back partnership of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez taken out for most likely the entire campaign, and we've barely even had a glimpse of Thiago Alcantara so far due to the knee injury he sustained following a horror challenge from Richarlison in the Merseyside derby back in October.

We've also had to cope without the likes of Alisson, Joel Matip, Fabinho, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah for various fitness/Covid-related reasons, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hasn't been available at all since injuring his knee in pre-season.

That's all been compounded by a really unfortunate spate of huge, game-changing VAR decisions going against Liverpool, such as Jordan Henderson's stoppage-time winner being chalked off against Everton for an invisible offside, and Brighton's dubious stoppage-time penalty last weekend.

All that said, they've shown a huge amount of resilience to cope with such adversity, and the results have mostly been good - albeit, not quite as relentlessly consistent as last season (which was always going to be impossible to repeat). To still be joint-top of the league on points and already into the Champions League knock-outs with a game to spare is a fine position to be in at this point, given the extreme mitigating circumstances.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah jumps the tackle from Ajax s Nicolas Tagliafico during the UEFA Champions League Group D match at Anfield, Liverpool. PA Photo. Picture date: Tuesday December 1, 2020. See PA story SOCCER Liverpool. Photo credit should read: Phil Noble/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, no commercial use without prior consent from rights holder.

JG: We've suffered big injuries in the same areas of the pitch, which is always what hurts you and is really hard to account for. So we have youth team players playing centre half, and then forwards who have scored goals in Champions League finals who can't even make the bench.

All that considered we have to be delighted with our league points total and the fact we have already qualified as winners from our Champions League group, which we normally make a bit of a drama of.

The worries is that asking the same lads to keep going again and again will eventually catch up with us. But every team is in a similar position this year, so it will come down to who can manage it best

Jurgen Klopp seems to be one of the most outspoken managers in terms of scheduling and substitute rules this season - does he have a point in your opinion?

JR: Absolutely. Liverpool have been given more Saturday lunchtime kick-offs following a Wednesday night Champions League than any other side so far, and as Klopp repeatedly says, it's dangerous from a player welfare point of view.

As for the five subs, the reason Klopp (and the likes of Pep Guardiola and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer) are so vociferous in pushing for it, isn't to gain a competitive edge, but merely to protect their squad in such a relentless campaign.

Klopp got a bit of stick for only using two subs against Ajax this week, but that was a calculated decision so that he could rotate en masse for the dead rubber game against Midtjylland next week (and he made all five subs in every other Champions League game so far).

I do understand why his aggressive tone in interviews irks some people, and comes across as him constantly complaining, but he keeps doing it because he feels so strongly about it and isn't being listened to.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp

It's not about helping Liverpool specifically, it's about protecting the footballers full stop (hence why other managers have made very similar points). Liverpool are the hardest hit with injuries now, but no doubt plenty of other squads will be hit badly over this festive period, especially ones who aren't used to playing twice a week.

JG: Of course. Everyone knew it was going to be tough this season but there are small things they TV companies or whoever could do to make it easier on the players and they choose not to.

It's frustrating because they'll be the first to complain when all the big stars are injured and the "product" isn't as good.

I understand the argument that the clubs take the money and so have to accept the consequences, but if we are just talking about having better football then surely it is win win for everyone.

What kind of style of play can we expect to see from Liverpool heading into this game?

JR: They'll look to play out from the back, dominate possession high up the pitch, pin Wolves back in their own half and patiently grind them down, while posing a threat on the break whenever they have the opportunity.

They haven't been anywhere near their free-flowing best lately because so many key figures have been unavailable, so it's been more a case of muddling through and doing whatever necessary to get the job done. Substance over style, you could say.

I'm expecting quite a tight, gritty encounter and Liverpool to be made to work really, really hard for the points. It's almost always the way against Wolves!

JG: Hopefully high tempo, although the intensity has dropped a bit this season for obvious reasons.

We are probably a bit more direct than people imagine. We try and create chances quickly, certainly if we have won the ball.

What injury/covid problems do Liverpool have heading into this fixture?

JR: A ludicrous amount, in truth!

Van Dijk and Gomez are obviously out long-term, and Thiago is expected to be out for a while yet too.

Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk and Andrew Robertson

The hope is that the likes of Alexander-Arnold, Keita, Milner, Shaqiri and Oxlade-Chamberlain will return at some point over the next few weeks, but it's unlikely we'll see them for this one.

Alisson is also confirmed to be out with a hamstring injury. Andy Robertson picked up a knock against Ajax but was able to complete the full 90 minutes, so he's one to keep an eye on (but I suspect he'll be ok to start).

JG: The first choice 'keeper and centre half partnership are both out, which is the biggest problem, but the young goalkeeper did well midweek and Matip and Fabinho have been excellent.

Trent and Naby Keita are late fitness tests. Thiago remains out which is very annoying as we got a small taste of his quality and then it got taken away. Signing him feels a bit like a dream now!

To be honest it is hard to keep track at the moment! Milner is injured too, his versatility is a big miss.

Your predicted XI?

JR: It's pretty much a case of just picking the guys who are actually fit at this point! I'll go with...

Kelleher; N. Williams, Matip, Fabinho, Robertson; Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Jota, Mane

That would resemble something like a 4-2-4, with Firmino being the one to drop in and help out in midfield, while Mane, Salah and Jota rotate positions up front. But don't be surprised if it's the usual 4-3-3 with Curtis Jones starting again, as he's been superb lately and was the standout performer against Ajax on Tuesday night.

JG: Kelleher, Alexander- Arnold, Robertson, Matip, Fabinho, Henderson, Wjinaldum, Jota, Mane, Salah, Firmino

Some sort of 4-2-3-1 which hasn't worked brilliantly for us yet, but does allow us to get more good players on the pitch

Who have been the form players for Liverpool this season so far?

JR: Diogo Jota has been nothing short of breathtaking, to be honest. I was excited when Liverpool signed him because they needed that fourth attacker and I'd been impressed with him at Wolves, but I anticipated he'd mainly be cover this season and mostly be used off the bench as a means of resting one of the first choice front three. Instead, he's come in and outperformed all of them, which I don't think anyone quite saw coming.

The sheer variety of goals he's been scoring is astonishing, and the fact he's still only 23 is frightening, frankly. It feels like we've unearthed another Mane/Salah type, and already that £45m fee is looking a steal. If you were to design in a laboratory the perfect attacking signing for this Liverpool team, he is literally it. An absolute joy to watch.

Otherwise, Robertson has been exceptional so far this season, playing some of the best football of his Liverpool career. Gini Wijnaldum has been a constant pillar of reliability, and still arguably doesn't get the wider recognition his subtle excellence deserves.

A word for Fabinho, too, who has been nothing but imperious since slotting in at centre-back to compensate for the absence of Van Dijk and Gomez. He makes it look like he's been playing there all his career.

Liverpool's Diogo Jota (right) has a shot blocked

JG: Sorry, but Diogo Jota has been a revelation.

We were warned by you guys that he was a "streaky" player when we signed him, so we are bracing ourselves for that, but this streak has been going on for a fair while now and shows no sign of letting up.

What have you made of Wolves from afar, how do you think they'll get on this season?

JR: I've watched a fair bit of them, and in all honesty I've found them to be quite a turgid side for the most part - reasonably solid and well-drilled at the back, but frequently lacking in excitement going forward.

They were very impressive in beating Arsenal at the Emirates, however, and I really like the look of both Pedro Neto and Daniel Podence in particular. Very quick, skillful and with an eye for goal.

They'll obviously be even more crucial now without Raul Jimenez, and Liverpool will need to be very wary of them.

A word for Jimenez, too, as it was such a sad sight to see what happened to him against Arsenal. He's such a fantastic footballer, and I hope he recovers as well and as swiftly as possible.

Ultimately, I would expect Wolves to push for the Europa League qualification spots and finish somewhere similar to where they are now - between 6th and 10th.

JG: From a distance it seems like you haven't quite hit the heights of previous years in terms of performance.

That said I'd be shocked if you finish outside the top eight, even without Jimenez for an extended period.

Your match prediction?

JR: A really tough battle, but Liverpool to just about edge it. 2-1.

JG: 3-1 to Liverpool. Hopefully a good performance too!

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