Christmas No.1: Observations as Liverpool sit merrily at the top after 2-0 win
Liverpool retained their unbeaten record in the Premier League this season with a composed 2-0 victory at Molineux, ensuring they remained at top spot over the festive period.
Goals from Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk were enough to see Klopp’s side over the line on Friday night despite challenging conditions (and a questionable WWE-esque firework entrance before kick-off). Here are the observations from the match.
Previously labelled a one-season wonder, any who questioned Mohamed Salah’s qualities after a relatively slow start to the campaign by his standards will be left desperately scratching their eyes.
The Egyptian has certainly hit his stride at the perfect time for Liverpool, coming good in the crunch tie against Napoli to retain the club’s place in the Champions League while lashing another one in here to set the wheels in motion.
Yet again, he made it all look so effortless. Clever movement to dart into the box gave Salah the yard he needed to latch onto Fabinho’s cross and flick the ball goalward, a representation of the confidence coursing through his, and his teammates veins at present amid a scintillating league run.
The 26-year-old later bagged a tremendous assist for Virgil van Dijk, clipping a dangerous cross into the area for the Dutchman, who matched it with a crisp volley. Proving a constant headache for the Wolves defence, Salah continues to showcase his world-class ability at centre stage for the Reds and is now perched as top goalscorer in the division with 11 goals to his name. Not bad for a player dubbed a ‘one season wonder’.
Once a glaring weakness that would prevent Liverpool from being able to challenge at the business end now looks like one of real strength as the weeks go by. Wolves had had a commendable campaign up until this stage, with many fans approaching the fixture with more fear than they displayed for the crunch tie with United at the weekend – although it must be noted that that says more about Mourinho’s former side than anything.
Taking a point off Manchester City and bagging a win at Molineaux against Chelsea, beating Wolves would require a sensible dose of defensive resilience from Klopp’s men.
What the doctor ordered, the doctor received.
Virgil van Dijk continues to look a snip at £75million, transforming the defensive picture into one of authority and consistency, Marshalling his back line, the Dutchman was a cut above the rest, winning aerial battles across the park while displaying his usual confidence in possession.
Virgil van Dijk for Liverpool in the Premier League since his debut:
🔴 Most touches (2,846)
🔴 Most minutes (2,845)
🔴 Most passes (2,471)
🔴 Most duels won (213)
🔴 Most clearances (173)
🔴 Most aerial duels won (155)
🔴 Most interceptions (38)
🔴 Most shots blocked (13)
— Squawka (@Squawka) December 21, 2018
If that wasn’t enough, he even showcased a good turn of pace, keeping up and outmuscling Adama Traore on the rare occasion Wolves threatened to expose some space in between the Reds. The most expensive defender in the world has rightfully earned his title and his first Premier League goal for the club seemed a fitting reward for another clean sheet and a job well done.
Indeed, Liverpool now have more Premier League clean sheets this season than they kept in the whole of the 2013/14 campaign – a poignant statement of the vast progression made.
Fabinho continues to impress
Delivering a man of the match performance against Manchester United, the Brazilian caught the eye once again with a real box-to-box performance in the Midlands. Making the second highest number of tackles in the first-half, Fabinho influenced the game at both ends of the field, providing a blanket to the back-four while possessing the capabilities to pick out an eye of the needle pass.
Initially evident in Sadio Mane’s opener last weekend, the former-Monaco man’s racking cross for Salah is now the second example of his ability to push forward in support of the attack. Defensive intelligence and attacking awareness with a sprinkle of ingenuity to boot, Fabinho is really beginning to come into his own at Liverpool.
Pay no attention to the ongoing transfer rumours, the Brazilian is settling into life on Merseyside and beginning to endear himself to fans.
Dreaming of a Red Christmas…
It remains to be seen whether Liverpool will go on and win the title after ensuring top spot for the Christmas period, but make no mistake, their achievements deserve huge commendation.
This is a team pushing a record-breaking Manchester City team all the way in the first half of the season, notching 48 points from 18 league games – the best record in the club’s history. For reference, in the last two seasons, it’s taken Liverpool until game 31 to reach an equivalent points tally.
Klopp’s new pragmatic approach has seen this team command control in their performances; taking the sting out of games, Liverpool’s game management has drastically improved, retaining possession for sustained periods to keep their opposition at bay.
Rest assured, Pep Guardiola will be increasingly aware he’s got a fight on his hands this season, for now Liverpool keep ploughing on, blissfully dancing through every obstacle and making us believe again.