Liverpool begin their hectic festive programme with a visit to Molyneux on Friday night with six consecutive league wins behind them.
With the visits of Newcastle and Arsenal to come before the New Year showdown with Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, Jurgen Klopp will be intent on securing another precious three away points.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Reds’ recent run of form is that in four of the six fixtures, they’ve managed to fashion a victory when time has been running out. At Watford, only twenty-three minutes remained when Mohammed Salah broke the deadlock en route to a 3-0 win. Against Burnley, it wasn’t until twenty minutes from time that Roberto Firmino put the Reds in front after the Clarets opened the scoring. Last weekend, for all Liverpool’s dominance over Manchester United it took an inspired substitution and Xherdan Shaqiri’s late two-goal blast to see the Reds over the line.
Sandwiched between those late surges, Divock Origi’s last-ditch winner against Everton was a little too close for comfort but the point persists that
Liverpool have instilled belief and patience to set alongside a never-say-die attitude.
Also not to be underestimated are the fitness levels and mental sharpness that enable Klopp’s team to outrun and outfight the opposition in the closing stages.
During the same period Klopp has been able to successfully call on players from the far reaches of his squad who have previously been written off by most supporters. Origi was the most unlikely Derby hero, Nathaniel Clyne emerged from the wilderness to shine against Manchester United and Alberto Moreno was able to come in and give Andy Robertson a breather at Burnley. In the absence of Joe Gomez, the much maligned Dejan Lovren has performed capably at centre-half and Joel Matip looked temporarily reborn before succumbing to a broken collar bone.
Wolves, managed by the exotically-named Portuguese Nuno Espirito Santo, present a stern test on their home ground where they have already taken points off Manchester City and beaten Chelsea. They currently lie seventh in the Premier League, with three wins on the spin after the Chelsea victory was followed up by maximum points from the trip to Newcastle and last weekend’s triumph over Bournemouth.
Promoted as winners of The Championship last season, the Portuguese boss has filled his squad with his compatriots; Rui Patricio in goal, the richly talented central midfield pairing of Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho, striker Diogo Jota – who is doubtful for the game with a hamstring injury – and winger Ivan Cavaleiro. Neves and Moutinho line up at the heart of Nuno’s preferred 3-4-3 formation, with former Liverpool player, Conor Coady the lynchpin of his defence.
Adding to Wolves cosmopolitan feel is Mexican striker, Raul Jiminez who has featured in all but one of their league matches so far with five goals to his credit.
For Liverpool, Klopp is down to the bare bones in defence. Gomez, recovering from his leg fracture, and Matip will remain unavailable for some weeks and Trent Alexander-Arnold is still feeling the effects of a heavy knock sustained against Napoli. With James Milner also doubtful with a slight muscle strain, Clyne will probably start once more at right back and Lovren with again partnering Virgil Van Dijk.
The manager though has plenty of options elsewhere and will be tempted to start Shaqiri after his goalscoring exploits last weekend. However, Klopp is unlikely to disrupt the renewed vigour of his preferred front three and might select the Swiss to play behind the strikers, with Gini Wijnaldum and Fabinho as a solid base in midfield. Fabinho’s recent form has been a revelation while Wijnaldum has been a watchword for consistency all season.
At the risk of repetition, this is another must-win game for Liverpool and a chance to put a four point gap between themselves and Manchester City before the latter entertain Crystal Palace on Saturday. So far the Reds have borne the pressure of hanging onto City’s coat tails and have revelled since in applying the same strain on their rivals for this title.
As league leaders it is Liverpool who are now calling the shots and before the January gunfight the Reds must summon all their reserves to stay on top.
*Odds are subject to change.