A first-half finish from Raul Jimenez and a fantastic strike from range by Ruben Neves saw Wolverhampton Wanderers earn a deserved win over Liverpool, despite Divock Origi’s fine goal.
Youngsters on show for Liverpool
As expected going into the match, Jurgen Klopp rotated his side heavily for this fixture. The festive period has clearly taken its toll on the league leaders. The German cited illness and a ‘very intense period’ as his reasons for making nine changes from the team who lost at the Ethiad.
Debuts for exciting prospects Curtis Jones and Rafael Camacho were amongst the key talking points going into the game. In addition, the debate surrounding the FA Cup’s importance in the eyes of managers, broadcasters and fans continuing to circulate.
Conversely, Wolves’ XI was a strong one. Top scorer Jimenez, gifted midfielders Joao Moutinho and Neves, along with a formidable back three, were all starting. Diogo Jota also returned to the lineup after a spell sidelined with an injury.
The only significant absentees for the home side were goalkeeper Rui Patricio and wing-back Matt Doherty. John Ruddy and Leander Dendoncker were introduced to the lineup in their place.
Lovren injury the key moment of a torrid opening stage
Ki-Jana Hoever, aged just sixteen-years-old, came on for his debut to replace the hamstring-clutching Croatian. This came during a match that offered little by way of style and flair early on.
James Milner picked up a yellow card for a professional foul to prevent a Wolves break, although the booking was avoidable, with Hoever in a covering possession.
Liverpool’s best chance of the first half saw Shaqiri mishit an effort wide from the edge of the box, much to his and the away fans’ frustration.
A flat opening half an hour looked set to continue until half-time until Jimenez capitalised on a James Milner mistake to put his side ahead. After catching the Reds’ number 7 in possession, Wolves’ Jota – the brightest player on the pitch – broke with speed, finding his Mexican strike partner. The latter finished powerfully to the far corner. Liverpool offered nothing in response to close out the half.
Divock Origi equalises, before Neves restores Wolves’ lead
Liverpool continued to lack pressure in the opening minutes of the second period. However, Origi’s deft shift of the ball to his left foot before and powerful finish beyond Ruddy equalised for Liverpool in unexpected fashion. Shaqiri’s dinked ball and James Milner’s control were key in the build-up before the ball fell to the Belgian.
However, the Reds were only on level terms for a matter of minutes, with an exquisitely powerful, dipping effort from long range by Neves sneaking inside the post to restore the home side’s lead.
Again, despite consistently disjointed passing in the build-up, Liverpool almost found themselves level. After Daniel Sturridge drew a foul in prime free kick territory, Xherdan Shaqiri rattled the inside of the post from the set piece, with Ruddy just getting a hand to his effort.
Entering the final twenty minutes, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah replaced Sturridge and Jones. This was part of the Reds stepping up their search for an equaliser.
Liverpool exhibited renewed energy following these substitutions but were consistently vulnerable at the back and wasteful in attack. The final few minutes were frantic, with Simon Mignolet up for a corner and a free kick, both fruitless.
Perhaps Klopp will appreciate the silver lining of this defeat, with Liverpool now able to focus on just the Premier League and the Champions League. However, it is another disappointing exit from the competition for his side and another opportunity for silverware gone.
In contrast, Nuno Espirito Santo will be overjoyed to continue his fine form against the top sides in the country. His Wolves team will now progress to the next round.