Jurgen Klopp has his eyes on a bigger prize than the FA Cup but being knocked out in the third round will bruise all the same.
For the first time this season his Liverpool side have lost two consecutive matches and there were concerning performances from those players given a rare chance. Daniel Sturridge, for example, might be needed when the crunch comes in the Premier League but this was a night to cast doubt on his suitability.
Credit must go to Nuno Espirito Santo, who treated this tie and the competition seriously and was rewarded with another big-name scalp. He can now hang Liverpool on his office wall alongside Chelsea and Tottenham.
MATCH FACTS AND STATS
Wolves 3-4-1-2; Ruddy 7; Bennett 7, Coady 7, Boly 7; Jonny 7 (Doherty 75’ 6), Neves 8, Dendoncker 7, Vinagre 7; Moutinho 7; Jimenez 7.5 (Costa 83’), Jota 7.5 (Cavaliero 52’ 6)
Subs not used: Norris, Gibbs-White, Saiss, Adama
Manager: Nuno Espirito Santo 8
Liverpool 4-3-3; Mignolet 6; Camacho 6, Lovren 2 (Hoever 6’ 7), Fabinho 6, Moreno 6; Milner 6, Keita 6, Jones 6.5 (Firmino 70’ 6); Shaqiri 6.5, Origi 6.5, Sturridge 4 (Salah 70’ 6)
Subs not used: Kelleher, Mane, Christie-Davies, Alexander-Arnold
Manager: Jurgen Klopp 6.5
Ref: Paul Tierney 7
The goal that won the game was worthy indeed. Ruben Neves marked a return to form with a glorious strike from distance, and for once Simon Mignolet may be excused too much criticism.
It meant that Klopp’s underwhelming record in the FA Cup continues – he has won three, drawn three, and lost four of 10 ties – and for a fourth successive season a team beginning with W dealt the final blow. West Ham in 2016, a very different Wolves at Anfield in 2017, and West Brom last year. Klopp has become used to W meaning something altogether more pleasant this term. Ls such as this have been scarce.
Klopp was aware his selection would invite scrutiny. Dejan Lovren and James Milner were the only two players to retain their starting places from that epic at Manchester City. Virgil Van Dijk had his feet up at home, and two teenagers were making their debuts. Klopp’s strategy became all the more dramatic when set against the Wolves line-up. John Ruddy was in goal but aside from that Nuno picked what could be considered a full-strength team.
KLOPP’S W CURSE
2-1 vs West Ham (2016)
1-2 vs Wolves (2017)
2-3 vs West Brom (2018)
2-1 vs Wolves (2019)
I had to make these changes,’ Klopp said ahead of kick-off. ‘A few players were really ill and then in the last session we lost Adam Lallana with a minor thing.
‘A few guys I want to see and we are able to do that, but of course we have to be sensitive with our situation. We came through a very intense period quite OK. The next intense period is waiting.’
Within four minutes Lovren felt said intense period in his left thigh. He went down and instantly Klopp called for Ki-Jana Hoever, the 16-year-old Dutch defender who has impressed greatly since signing from Ajax in August. Klopp gave Hoever a lasting hug and a stream of warm words in his ear and sent him on to become the youngest player to appear for Liverpool in the FA Cup.
Liverpool striker Divock Origi unleashed a left-footed shot through the legs of Leander Dendoncker and into the top corner.