You’ve got to love an ugly win, especially when football has been repetitively exploding in your face for a couple of months, writes Steven Scragg.
Maybe ‘ugly’ is a bit harsh, but this was a game in which the best chances were unaccepted ones, rather than clear-cut ones; chances lost within the mind’s eye. Some pretty shapes were thrown out at times, but this was a game dictated by the misplaced or overhit pass here, and a header off-target or a shot flashing past the post there.
Three valuable Premier League points gained, however, on the back of securing progression to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, means that we are currently making the best of the bad situation we have found ourselves in.
Suddenly, we are now presented with a strange three-week spring break, before resuming – away at Arsenal – the possibility of trying to build on these tentative foundations, denied us in the meantime by a combination of the FA Cup quarter-finals and an ill-advised international break.
Sometimes, football’s fixture list can be your friend, while at other times it can be your enemy.
For Liverpool, there is a little bit of both elements at play. Two successive wins should leave you eager for the next game, while on the other hand, that losing streak at Anfield means the prospect of returning home still offers no guaranteed comforts.
In terms of our latest victory, the identity of Monday night’s opposition being Wolves played into Liverpool’s hands. This was a game against opponents who have been suffering a hangover of their own this season, at a venue where we haven’t lost for decades.
Wolves started the game well, then had to absorb the blow of conceding in first-half stoppage time, to a goal scored by a former player.
Liverpool’s players, while undoubtedly pleased with their newly procured advantage, could probably feel a pang of understanding towards the host’s familiar plight.
The game was won and lost in the last couple of minutes of the first half. Ruben Neves laced one wide of the post, when well-positioned and with the goalmouth at his mercy, shortly before Diogo Jota scored.
Football and the outcome dictated by such fine lines.
Jota’s return is one of the biggest positives of Liverpool’s efforts to regain traction and to win the game he took advantage of the unfortunate Rui Patricio, who would later leave the pitch in concerning circumstances.
While the finish might have leant on a degree of luck, Patricio beaten at his near post, the build-up to the goal was excellent.
A move instigated by the towering command of the air from Nat Phillips, the ball was then ruthlessly interchanged between Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah before Jota sliced across it to deceive the embarrassed Wolves goalkeeper.
Jota offers an increasingly compelling alternative to Bobby Firmino, while he is arguably a player who provides a more natural balance to Mane and Salah than the whimsical Brazilian. Just where Liverpool might be now, had Jota not been indisposed throughout the winter months, we can only daydream about.
This doesn’t mean that a pantomime villain, or scapegoat, now must be the role of Firmino, as it’s OK to have varying alternatives.
Jota should be allowed to be himself, rather than seen as the replacement of somebody else. Having both at our disposal, means we can morph and adapt long before we drift towards the recent dangers of being predictable and far too easy to read.
The great thing about Jota, is that he will learn, grow, and improve exponentially, thanks to being in proximity to Firmino, Mane and Salah. He will then carry the baton to the next generation of attacking talent that Liverpool sign, passing the education on.
It’s the Liverpool way.
Options and possibilities
There were other positives for Liverpool at Molineux.
Trent Alexander-Arnold continued in his return to form, while alongside Phillips, Ozan Kabak’s shoulders and early apprehensions as a Liverpool player seem to be easing by the game, to the extent that rather than worry about him and the situation he has been airdropped into, we can now maybe assess him for the defender he is. In this respect, there are a few signs that he might be a reasonable player, and this one was his best performance yet.
Fabinho’s continued presence in midfield soothes and reassures, even when he doesn’t put in a stellar performance, while there were also scowls and incredulous facial expressions from Gini Wijnaldum and Thiago when being hooked, despite – at least in the case of the latter – deserving it.
Added to this, being able to throw on Naby Keita, James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain brings joy to the soul. Increasing options are wonderful.
Of course, the game ended in a fragmented manner, stretching to the 108th minute, due to the necessary treatment to the stricken Patricio, injured during Salah’s disallowed goal.
Thankfully, the noises being made about the Wolves goalkeeper are positive ones.
Jurgen Klopp declared these three points to be “dirty” ones, and it was the perfect terminology as they were almost awkwardly earned. Now, we have a three-week gap until we play again, a break that can just as easily benefit us, as it can unsettle us.
To Arsenal we will then go, a team that is as capable in taking us apart, as it is handing us another three points without protest.
What we should be able to do, is take our last two victories as a reason not to approach the game with any sense of trepidation.
A couple of positive steps forward have been made, and next we’ll need to break out into a light jog, if we’re to have any hope of putting in a much-needed sprint finish.