December joy often gives way to January gloom and, after winning their final eight matches of 2018, Liverpool’s New Year got off to a frustrating start with that defeat to title rivals Manchester City last Thursday. They will have to wait another few days to get their Premier League pursuit back on course, for tonight they turn their attention to the FA Cup, a competition that has not been kind to the Reds in recent seasons.
In one of just two all-Premier League third round ties, the league leaders visit Wolves for the second time in just 17 days, having won at Molineux just before Christmas. Also, it’s the second time in three seasons that these teams have met in the FA Cup, with the men from the Midlands scoring a famous win at Anfield two years ago. With all the other Third Round ties now played, we look at the most pertinent statistics from the concluding fixture of one of English football’s most anticipated weekends.
Last 6 matches
Liverpool: W5, D0, L1, F16, A4
Wolves: W3, D1, L2, F8, A7
Prior to the defeat at the Etihad Stadium, Liverpool had won eight consecutive matches in all competitions dating back to November and had been on a run of nine Premier League wins on the trot. The two goals conceded to Manchester City were as many as the Reds had shipped in total in their previous six matches and only one fewer than the total conceded in December. That was their first Premier League defeat in just under eight months and the first time that they conceded multiple times in a league game since April.
Wolves’ last six matches accurately reflect their overall season to date – some excellent results interspersed with points they should really not be dropping. Defeat to Liverpool was no disgrace, but failing to beat Fulham was disappointing and losing at home to Crystal Palace will have taken a lot of the gloss off of the fine win away to Tottenham in their previous game. At least they have shown a happy knack for scoring late goals – seven of their last eight have come in the 71st minute or later, with six league points gained as a consequence.
FA Cup five-year record
Since reaching the final in 2012, Liverpool have been knocked out in the fourth round in four of the subsequent six seasons, including each of the last three. Their last two FA Cup defeats both came at Anfield, with West Brom triumphing last season and, as already mentioned, Wolves in 2017. The previous year, it was West Ham who eliminated the Reds from the competition in a Fourth Round replay, with Liverpool’s last FA Cup visit to Wembley nearly four years ago. On that day, they surrendered meekly to Aston Villa in the semi-finals, while in 2014 they were among Arsenal’s victims in a campaign that ended with the Gunners lifting the trophy.
Wolves’ best season of late in this competition was in 2017 when, as a Championship club, they won away to Premier League sides Stoke and Liverpool before falling to Chelsea in the Fifth Round. Last year, they were beaten in a Third Round replay by Swansea, while in 2016 they were knocked out by West Ham, for whom the win set up a Fourth Round clash with Liverpool. Prior to that, Wolves lost on penalties at home to Fulham in 2015 and, as a League One side in 2013/14, they entered and exited in the first round, beaten at home by Oldham in a replay. The Latics were later beaten by Liverpool in round three.
Last Molineux meeting
Wolves 0-2 Liverpool, 21 December 2018
The year was 2018. Liverpool were top of the Premier League and eyeing the number one spot for Christmas. Donald Trump was President of the USA and Prime Minister Theresa May was embroiled in messy Brexit negotiations. Alright, it hasn’t really been that long since Liverpool’s last visit to Wolves!
Following a bright start by the home side at Molineux a couple of weeks ago, they fell behind to an 18th-minute goal from Mohamed Salah, who found space in the penalty area to tap home from close range. Liverpool largely bossed the game but didn’t make the points safe until midway through the second half when Virgil van Dijk scored his first league goal in red. Aside from a fleeting scare late on when Wolves had a half-chance, this was a routine win for Jurgen Klopp’s side, one which ensured that they would be top of the table when Santa Claus did his rounds three nights later.
The last three seasons have taught us that Klopp shuffles the pack for FA Cup matches and, with Liverpool firmly in the hunt for the Premier League title, it seems inevitable that some of the lesser-seen Reds will get their opportunity tonight at Molineux. Simon Mignolet will definitely welcome a rare appearance, having been ousted by Alisson since the summer, while Adam Lallana can also expect to give a reminder of what he can offer to the team.
Divock Origi has faded into the background again a month after his derby day winner, while it will be interesting to see if Alberto Moreno features after his recent comments about the manager. A spate of defensive injuries means that most of the first choice back four could feature, especially with Nathaniel Clyne moving on loan to Bournemouth at the weekend.
Klopp will definitely ring the changes, but Nuno Espirito Santo may choose a different tack. Wolves are almost certainly not going to be relegated and are incredibly unlikely to finish any higher than seventh, so the FA Cup represents a glorious chance to give their season real meaning going into the spring months. Also, theirs is a manager who set a Premier League record for the most consecutive matches with the same starting XI earlier in the season. If he decides to switch things up a bit, though, who might be given an opportunity to shine?