The FA Cup third round this weekend provides a break from the league campaign. Two teams coming from disappointing losses in the Premier League go head to head in the FA Cup third round on Monday as Liverpool travel once more to the Molineux on Sunday afternoon. Liverpool are smarting from their first loss of their Premier League campaign against fellow title-challengers Manchester City, while their hosts lost unexpectedly against Crystal Palace at home.
While the loss against former Liverpool boss Roy Hodson’s Palace side was unexpected, Wolves have in the recent times stunned many a top-six side. Only Tottenham Hotspurs and Liverpool in the top-six have managed to beat them at home. Wolves have the sixth-best defensive record in the league so far this season, while at the front they have been scoring relatively freely for a promoted side. Nuno Espirito Santo will want his team to be in their best defensive form, and also be sharp at the front.
At some point last month Liverpool would have hoped to reach this fixture unbeaten in the league and then weigh the importance of the oldest cup competition in the world for this campaign. But that was not to happen as their defence could not keep up their form at the Etihad allowing City to score a goal in each half to reduce the Reds’ lead at the top of the table to an achievable 4 points. Liverpool will also be casting envious glances to the fixtures their fellow top-six sides are playing in their third round FA Cup matches. None of the other five are playing Premier League opponents in this round. But a tough fixture upfront in the Cup has posed a tough choice for Jurgen Klopp – should he prioritize Premier and Champions League over the Cup or not? His team selection should be an indication. A very heavy rotation, especially in the defense where the Liverpool squad is weak could indicate that he will treat FA Cup as a second priority. In midfield and upfront, he has enough quality in his squad to not worry too much. Klopp will hope that whichever eleven he sends out on Monday, his team will continue the winning form they showed before hitting the bump at Etihad.
- This will be the seventh FA Cup meeting between Wolves and Liverpool – Wolves have won four of the previous six, including the last such meeting in January 2017 (2- 1 at Anfield). Overall too Wolves hold the advantage in this fixture, winning 50 games out of a total of 102 and losing only 35 fixtures.
- Liverpool have not progressed deep in FA Cup in their last three campaigns since reaching the 2015-16 semi-finals, ending all three attempts at the fourth round. All three times they have been knocked out by fellow Premier League sides, something that has, in fact, happened five times in last seven FA Cup campaigns. But they have not been eliminated in the third round since the 0-1 loss to Manchester United in 2010-11.
- Wolves are winless in their last six home FA Cup games (D2 L4), since beating Doncaster in a replay in round three in 2010/11. In their last seven FA Cup away games, Liverpool have won four, lost three and drawn one.
Matt Doherty has scored thrice and assisted four goals in 21 appearances in the Premier League (1851 minutes). For someone who is not a forward, that is a good return. He has been key in the recent surprises that Wolves have sprung against top-six opponents in the league, assisting a goal each in both the wins against Chelsea and Tottenham. His xG per game is 0.17 but combined with 0.18 assists per game, he is capable of contributing a goal or two. Assuming, that Nuno Espirito Santo rotates his attack a bit, Doherty might be key on Monday.
Daniel Sturridge must be the biggest puzzle for Jurgen Klopp to solve since the manager arrived at Anfield. The English striker has shown time and again that he can still be sharp in attack but has been thwarted by either injury or by fellow team-members in far better form. This season, the FA Cup campaign gives him a chance to underline his value once more. His league numbers for this season are not too bad – two goals in 264 minutes in the League and one Champions League goal and an assist in 155 minutes. But he has started only four games for Liverpool so far and Monday night represents a big chance for him to make a statement.
For Wolves, Romain Saiss and Diogo Jota have both recovered from injury and will come into contention on Monday night. Espirito Santo might still rotate a bit, which could bring in Ruben Neves, who has been out of favour for a while.
For Liverpool, we can be sure of who will not feature – Nathaniel Clyne and Dominic Solanke as both have signed for Bournemouth on Friday – Clyne on loan and the striker permanently. Nevertheless, Klopp will rotate his side to give game time to several players, including Mignolet in goal, Naby Keita and Adam Lallana in the midfield and Sturridge and Origi up front. Joel Matip and Joe Gomez are recovering but not fast enough to feature anytime soon, which means that VVD and Dejan Lovren will not get a rest on Monday.
While Thursday’s loss to City was a bump to Liverpool’s campaign, their recent form and overall ascendancy in quality should mean a win for the Reds on Monday. Wolves will provide a tough challenge indeed but Liverpool have enough to overcome them.
Wolves 0 – 2 Liverpool