Liverpool manager has called the extreme fixture congestion in the festive period “a crime” but it would have been more justifiable if Nuno Esprito Santo would have uttered those words. Not only do his team – Wolverhampton Wanderers have to play two games within 48 hours, but they have to play Manchester City and Liverpool in those 48 hours. On Sunday, Wolves visit Anfield to begin the second half of their season in the earnest.
Liverpool are fortunate to have an additional day’s rest before this game. Not that they would be too worried, given how they smashed Leicester for four goals on Boxing Day, mere days after lifting the FIFA Club World Cup trophy in far away Qatar in a final that went to extra time. That victory over the Foxes put the Reds 13 points clear at the top of the league, with a game (West Ham away) in hand. On top of that, they play Wolves at Anfield where they have won 16 consecutive league home games, scoring at least twice in every victory (49 goals in total). With Liverpool refusing to drop points ever since drawing against Manchester United in October and with them amassing a massive 52 points out of 18 games, expectations are high that they will drop points sooner rather than later. Probability experts, however, would call the outcomes of two consecutive games as independent events and hence the Reds’ chances of dropping points is not dependent on the number of points they currently have. Klopp has converted this mathematical principle into footballing gospel by getting his team to focus only on the next game and nothing else. If his team continue to follow his guidance, they are going to be difficult to catch up with.
For a team that has suffered only 3 league defeats so far this season, Wolves, in the 8th place with just 27 points (at the time of writing) may seem a bit incongruous. The only team to have fewer defeats than 3 so far this season, is Liverpool. But what has hurt Nuno Esprito’s team the most are the 9 draws, which a dubious distinction they share with Arsenal, although Wolves have so far played a game less. Wolves are going into their 2-day marathon having beaten Norwich on the road six days prior. When they arrive at Anfield on Sunday, they could be either 5th placed with 30 points (best case scenario) or they could have slipped to 10th, still sitting on 27 points. Whatever be the case, Wolves will be massively tired and motivating them against all odds will be Nuno’s biggest challenge on Sunday.
- Liverpool have lost just one of their 10 Premier League games against Wolves (W7 D2), winning the last five in a row by an aggregate score of 12-1. In fact, Wolves have lost 15 of their last 17 top-flight away games against Liverpool winning the other two, 1-0 in January 1984 and in December 2010. Wolves have failed to score in 10 of their last 14 league visits to Anfield.
- This is the final league game of 2019 for both the teams and Liverpool have won their final league game of the year in each of the last five calendar years, since losing 2-1 at Chelsea in 2013. Wolves as well are good at finishing the year on a high. They have won their final league game in four of the last five calendar years, losing 1-2 at home to QPR in 2016.
- Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 49 Premier League home games (W39 D10). If they avoid defeat on Sunday, it would be just the third unbeaten home run of 50+ games in English top-flight history (Chelsea 86 in 2004-08 and Liverpool 63 in 1978-80).
- Wolves are unbeaten in their last seven Premier League away games (W3 D4). However, their last two defeats on the road in the competition have been on Merseyside (0-2 vs Liverpool in May and 2-3 vs Everton in September).
Trent Alexander Arnold
Trent stamped his name all over the King Power stadium on Boxing day after assisting two goals and scoring one. But he has been quite relentless throughout the season so far. Having assisted 8 goals and scored 2, he is already leading the assists charts. 3.14 key passes per 90 minutes and xA90 of 0.36 (both among the highest in the team) mean that not only does he create a lot of chances, but those chances are pretty good as well. With that fourth goal against Leicester he showed that he also has his scoring boots handy and defenders can expect more than precise crosses and passes from this youngster.
Raul Jimenez has been involved in seven of Wolves’ 13 away goals this season (4 goals, 3 assists), including six of their last 10 on the road. While his goals tally of 7 goals so far this season does not put him in the company of the Golden Boot nominees, his 5 assists make his contributions stand out as he has contributed to almost half of the goals his team has scored so far. Nuno will know that to trouble Liverpool even a little bit or to snatch even a draw, his team will need to score and Jimenez is his best hope as a scorer or as a provider.
For Liverpool, Henderson suffered a minor shin injury against Leicester but Klopp reckons that his captain will be ready to face the Wolves. Other than Henderson, all other injuries Liverpool have are long-term – Matip and Oxlade-Chamberlain could return early next year but there is no date of return decided for Dejan Lovren and Nathaniel Clyne, the return is quite far. This means that Klopp does not have many options for rotation in defence, but he might rotate slightly in the midfield and upfront to make sure his best XI are well-rested.
For Wolves, Nuno will be forced to rotate as his side have to play Manchester City and Liverpool within a space of 48 hours. Given this need, the likes of Willy Boly, Ryan Bennett, and Patrick Cutrone, will be hoping for a start at Anfield.
Given how tired Wolves are likely to be going into this game and given that Liverpool will have had one additional day to recover, the Reds are more likely to emerge as winners. Given Liverpool’s record at Anfield this season, a Reds’ win on Sunday becomes even more probable.
Liverpool 3 – 1 Wolves