Wolves vs Liverpool: Three key battles at Molineux
While we might just be entering the Christmas schedule, Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Manchester United has many fans in the red half of Merseyside believing they are the leading contender in the race for the Premier League title.
Now unbeaten in their last 17 league matches, Jurgen Klopp’s side will travel to the Midlands on Friday.
However, the Reds will know that they will likely face an incredibly tough test against a Wolves side enjoying a very impressive resurge.
Winning their last three matches on the bounce for the first time in nearly four decades, Nuno Espírito Santo’s men have their sights firmly set on securing their own European football this season.
With Liverpool handed the chance to briefly extend their advantage at the top of the table to four points, what are the three key battles to keep an eye out for at Molineux this Friday:
Ruben Neves vs Fabinho
While Ruben Neves might not be stealing the headlines with his goalscoring exploits this season, the 21-year-old remains a huge part of Wolves’ system.
Starting 16 of the Oranges’ 17 Premier League matches, the former Porto man has made over 100 more passes than midfield partner João Moutinho and really is the man who dictates the play at Molineux.
Along with possessing a wonderful range of passing that is frequently behind Wolves’ counter-attacking style, Neves is also an integral part of Wolves’ defensive set-up.
With only central defender Willy Boly making more interceptions this year, Klopp and Liverpool will know they can not allow Neves to gain a foothold and attempt to dictate the midfield battle.
Fabinho’s game by numbers vs. Man United:
6 accurate long balls
3 take ons completed
2 chances created
1 aerial duel won
Liverpool’s chief orchestrator. pic.twitter.com/zzivgJSzN4
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 16, 2018
One man who will likely be given the duty of stifling Neves’ creativity is summer arrival Fabinho.
Although the Brazilian international has confessed that it took him longer than expected to adjust to the demands of the Premier League, Liverpool’s £40million man put in a colossal showing against Manchester United last weekend.
Producing a sublime assist for Sadio Mane’s opener in their 3-1 win at Anfield, the 25-year-old relished his role as Liverpool’s deepest-lying midfielder and is only going from strength to strength.
While the former Monaco man has managed just 565 minutes of football this season, 100 less than Jordan Henderson, no midfielder has made more passes in December and only teammate Georginio Wijnaldum is averaging more per game entering Christmas.
Matt Doherty vs Andrew Roberston
Although both sides possess a string of attacking talent, it has been arguably their full-backs that have been the most eye-catching this season.
One man who has epitomized that is Wolves’ buccaneering right-back Matt Doherty.
Now scoring three goals and providing three assists, the Irish international also picked the PFA Player of the Month award for September.
Once again scoring a stoppage-time winner against Newcastle earlier in the month, remarkably, only Moutinho is making more key passes per game.
It isn’t just the 26-year-olds attacking exploits that have seen him gain a long list of admirers this season.
Playing a key part in Wolves’ run of five clean sheets between September and October, Doherty is also averaging two tackles and two interceptions over 90 minutes, a return that is only bettered by Neves and Bony.
Matt Doherty scores his 3rd of the season to give Wolves all 3 points
10 goals have been scored in the PL by players from the Republic of Ireland this season, 9 by defenders/wing backs:
3 – Shane Duffy, MATT DOHERTY
2 – Ciaran Clark
1 – Seamus Coleman, Jeff Hendrick pic.twitter.com/SaQnu8GluO
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) December 9, 2018
Forming a very impressive partnership with Sadio Mane, Andrew Roberston has firmly cemented his spot as a fan favourite at Anfield.
An ever willing runner down Liverpool’s left-hand side, much like Doherty, the newly crowned Scotland captain has been a vital part of the Reds’ newfound defensive stability.
Featuring in 15 Premier League matches this season, no player on Merseyside has made more than Robertson’s 33 tackles this season.
In fact, the 24-year-old sits nine clear of fellow full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold who sits second in Liverpool’s tackling charts.
While he might be part of a defence that has conceded just seven league goals this season, it is Robertson’s attacking form that could be a vital part of Liverpool’s title push.
Already picking up three assists, Roberton has a growing reputation for his delivery and he is a constant source of supply to the visitors attacking trio.
With both Klopp and Santo desperate to have their full-backs involved in the attacks, the managerial duo will know that neither Doherty or Robertson can be allowed space to operate in the final third.
Raúl Jiménez vs Virgil van Dijk
With Raúl Jiménez announcing that he would love to make his move from Benfica a permanent one, the 27-year-old is certainly going about it the right way.
Once again finding the net in last weekend’s 2-0 win over Bournemouth, the Mexican international has quickly established himself as the focal point of Santo’s attack.
While Jiménez might start working off the right-hand side of Wolves’ attacking trio, much like Liverpool, they’re all interchangeable and will constantly swap positions.
Now scoring five league goals and picking up four assists, the forward has been directly involved in nearly 50% of Wolves’ overall goals this season.
With no player in Orange having more shots per game so far this year, Jiménez also boasts a very impressive record at Molineux.
He has now recorded three goals in his last four appearances on home soil, including finding the net against a list of top-four sides.
— bwin (@bwin) December 15, 2018
When Jiménez does inevitably come inside and take a more central role, Virgil van Dijk must be constantly aware of the threat the Mexican possesses.
While Alisson’s mistake may have cost Liverpool a clean sheet against United last weekend, the Reds are quickly becoming one of the best defensive units across Europe and the Dutch defender has been a huge part of their transformation.
A leader at the back and a constant organizer, the £70million man also find himself as the player who stars Liverpool’s attack from the back.
No player for Klopp’s side has had more touches or completed more passes than Van Dijk this season.
Although the Dutch skipper will have to respect Jiménez’s ability to link up play, Wolves’ leading marksman must not allow Van Dijk the chance to offer service to the likes of Fabinho and the rest of Liverpool’s attacking talent.
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