Liverpool kept their Premier League winning streak alive with a hard fought 2-1 victory away to Wolves.
Goals in either half from Jordan Henderson and Roberto Firmino — either side of a Raul Jimenez headed equaliser — sufficed for the Reds in what is likely to be one of their most difficult games for the remainder of the league campaign.
The European Champions conceded their first goal in over a month, but the nature of the win — where they had to dig deep and fight with their backs to the wall — was bound to have pleased their manager, Jurgen Klopp. The only down side to yet another victory was Sadio Mane hobbling off with an injury, but — at this stage — it did appear a precaution.
After a bright Liverpool start, it was the hosts who first threatened.
Famed for their high lined set piece defence, Wolves worked a chink in the previously impenetrable armour when Pedro Neto’s low cross skipped its way across the face of the Liverpool goal. Virgil van Dijk, ever vigilant, provided the clearance.
The home team had come close from a set piece, but the European Champions showed them how it is done minutes later. From an out swinging Trent Alexander-Arnold corner, Captain Henderson diverted the ball into the top corner via his shoulder. VAR correctly confirmed the midfielder didn’t use his hand and the goal stood.
Another well worked set piece routine gave Wolves the opportunity to score.
Joao Mourinho’s short corner found Ruben Neves and the midfielders angled cross found wing back Matt Doherty completely unmarked at the back post. The Irishman, though, badly miscued his free header and the Reds breathed a collective sigh of relief.
The flow of the game was end to end and suitably quick. Raul Jimenez was dispossessed in the Liverpool box and a matter of second later, Mohamed Salah — after being fed by Mané — drew a block by Conor Coady that prevented what looked to be a goal bound shot.
Starting his third game in succession, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain was Liverpool’s main attacking conduit in midfield. A floated through ball from the Englishman found Mané over the top, but, just as the Senegalese was about to pull the trigger, Leander Dendoncker made a last gasp intervention.
It proved to be Mané’s last action as a fall to ground made him call for his own substitution. Recent signing Takumi Minamino made his Premier League when he came on for the reigning African Player of the Year.
Wolves, with the superhuman dribbling of Adama Traore a catalyst, continued to mount pressure on the Reds, but, in truth, they created nothing substantive and Alisson was a mere spectator.
Indeed, it was Liverpool who had the last chance of the first half. A slaloming dribble, beating two defenders, saw Salah manufacture a shooting chance, but, once again, his shot was blocked on its way towards the goal and the half time whistle sounded with the European Champions 1-0 up.
The Reds almost started the second half in devastating fashion. After being hemmed in by the press, Traore dawdled on the ball just outside his own box. The hesitation saw the Malian Spaniard robbed of the ball by Salah and the Egyptian worked Patricio with a strong shot.
Nuno Espírito Santo’s team showed their own attacking thrust soon after and Neto, who found himself in a good position at the back post, had his goal bound shot blocked by Gomez.
The Reds resolve was broken not long after, though, as Jimenez delicately glanced home a Traore cross. The Mexican’s dribble through the heart of the visitors defence saw him work the ball to Traore.
The winger returned the favour with a sumptuous clipped cross and the number 9 made no mistake with his header as the European Champions conceded their first domestic goal in over a month of football.
With the wind in their sails, Wolves kept pushing the issue and they drew two saves out of Alisson, one from Jimenez and another from Traore.
Looking jaded, the Reds opted for a change of shape; playing a 442, with Fabinho coming in for Oxlade Chamberlain.
The tactical alteration began to bear fruit and Firmino, when his quick feet found him one on one with Patricio, ought to have scored. It was only a tune up for the Brazilian, however, and he amends in the 85th minute.
Salah’s brilliant hold up play gave Henderson the ball in an advanced position, near the Wolves goal. The captain then passed to Firmino, whose agile feet bought him the space to powerfully whack a shot past Patricio and into the top left corner.
Wolves continued to push in search of an equaliser and Diogo Jota was guilty of spurning a good chance when he was fed by Jimenez.
It proved to the last chance of the game as Liverpool held to extend their lead at the summit to 16 points, and with a game in hand.
Liverpool team: Alisson; Alexander Arnold, Gomez, van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Oxlade Chamberlain; Salah, Firmino, Mane.
Substitutes: Minamino for Mane, Origi for Salah, Fabinho for Oxlade Chamberlain.
Subs not used: Adrian, Williams, Jones, Matip.