Sunday 22 September 2019

Reds' Dutch master Van Dijk proves unstoppable in defence and attack

Wolves 0 Liverpool 2

Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game. Photo: Nick Potts/PA
Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game. Photo: Nick Potts/PA

Sam Wallace

There will be days when Liverpool simply require Virgil van Dijk to help defend the leads they build if they are to win a first league title in 28 years, and there will be others, like this one, when they can rely on him to win them the game in their opponents' penalty box.

It was on the shoulders of the great Dutchman that this victory was built, scoring the second and marshalling the game on a night when the rain never stopped in front of the biggest home crowd Molineux has seen since 1981.

The home fans' own side were unrelenting in the first half and, although they struggled to maintain those levels after the break, Nuno Espirito Santo's team did not give up their three-match winning run easily.

Mohamed Salah's tenth league goal of the season was the difference in the first half, when Liverpool were more often on the back foot and it laid the ground for their gradual asserting of control.

Wolves' star Adama Traore battles with Liverpool's Fabinho. Photo: Carl Recine/Reuters
Wolves' star Adama Traore battles with Liverpool's Fabinho. Photo: Carl Recine/Reuters

Remarkably, their unbeaten league run now stands at 18 games - almost half the season - and they will be the Christmas leaders over Manchester City no matter whether the champions beat Crystal Palace today.

Liverpool were solid again, with Van Dijk at the heart of a defence that gave up precious few chances to Wolves' original front two of Adama Traore and Raul Jimenez, dangerous when the ball was played up to them early and quickly.

The difference told in the quality of Liverpool's key men, who unpicked Wolves when it mattered and, with a centre-back capable of finishing as confidently as Van Dijk, there is always an advantage to be had.

Soaked

The home team had no goal to show for it by half-time, although they could say that they had made most of the running. It was a brave performance from Wolves, who moved the ball forward as quickly as Liverpool like to do albeit without taking their chances.

By the time the game kicked off it felt like it had been raining for a week in Wolverhampton and although these top footballers never play on a pitch that has not been soaked first for their benefit, this was of a different scale in the Black Country on a black night.

Wolverhampton Wanderers' Jonny Castro is boxed in by Liverpool's Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. Photo: Carl Recine/Reuters
Wolverhampton Wanderers' Jonny Castro is boxed in by Liverpool's Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. Photo: Carl Recine/Reuters

The surface was so quick that not even Adama Traore could be relied upon to keep up with a through ball at pace, and the rain was in the eyes of the players at all times.

If there was a criticism of Wolves then it was that their composure in front of goal was not quite up to that of Salah, whose perfect finish was the difference between the teams at half-time.

He took Fabinho's cross first time with the outside of his left foot, a decision that he had made as the ball was dispatched in his direction, and the speed of it was what caught Rui Patricio and his defenders flat-footed.

On that occasion Liverpool had got in down the left flank of the hosts, with Salah the player who struck the ball out there.

Eventually, Fabinho and Dejan Lovren had managed to create the opening and the ball was cut back from the bye-line for Salah.

Otherwise Liverpool found themselves under a lot of pressure from the Wolves approach and there were times when they were opened up and vulnerable.

Jurgen Klopp applauds his players after their victory at Molineux
Jurgen Klopp applauds his players after their victory at Molineux

In attack for Wolves, Jimenez was exceptional as a target man and alongside him Traore occupied Van Dijk.

The Liverpool captain managed to keep Traore where he wanted him for the most part but the prospect of having pace unleashed upon them makes even the best defenders jittery. With Joao Moutinho behind those two, Wolves kept probing. There was a good performance from Matt Doherty, that forward-thinking right-back at Wolves, who made one run in from the touchline that opened up a chance and had his bench appealing for a penalty.

The replays showed that Doherty had simply collided with James Milner but it was one of those nights where a moment's hesitation in defence, a challenge that came a fraction too late, could have serious consequences.

It was creating that kind of situation that strained Wolves after the break when their visitors seemed that bit more composed than they had been in the first half.

Van Dijk was excellent once again in the centre of defence and the one time he was isolated with Traore, he stepped across the path of the winger and himself between player and ball.

Traore was soon off, replaced by the Portuguese attacker Ivan Cavaleiro as Nuno Espirito Santo tried to put some new energy into his side.

Morgan Gibbs-White, such an influence against Chelsea in the victory for his side at the start of the month, came on in place of Moutinho.

Wolves had always gone looking for the goal but it simply eluded them in the game's key moments.

They did not have the quality in attack that Liverpool can rely upon in such critical moments although their second from Van Dijk was worthy of any centre-forward.

Clipped

Wolves had failed to get the ball clear properly on two occasions and Salah looked up to spot the chance, a clipped ball into Van Dijk that he guided first time past Patricio.

This is a golden time for the Dutch centre-half and he was superb on the ground and in the air in the second half.

Before the goal, Naby Keita, whose night had been below standard, had come off injured and was replaced by Adam Lallana, playing in only his second game since the end of October.

In the moments before the goal, Lallana had a good opening made for him by Salah and Sadio Mane but could not squeeze his shot past Patricio.

That goal finished Wolves' real interest in the game although they never stopped competing and Jurgen Klopp made changes that acknowledged that.

His team, however, have become very capable when it comes to protecting a lead, and only a late miss for Gibbs-White, when Andrew Robertson misjudged a cross, really threatened their lead. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Ireland's fullback dilemma, World Cup bonding and the squad standby list

Also in Sport