By Umarah Naz.
A car crash is the only way to describe the last week for Liverpool FC.
Three home defeats in a row have left the Reds out of two cup competitions and with a title challenge crumbling away into a top four scrap.
The embarrassment of these defeats have fans reeling at what has gone so horribly wrong with a team that was breathing down league leaders Chelsea’s neck up until New Years Eve.
Today’s 2-1 FA Cup loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield compounded Jurgen Klopp’s ignominy, where Liverpool could find no answers to the championship sides counterattacking skills.
Klopp made nine changes to the team for the game with only Loris Karius and Roberto Firmino keeping their places from Wednesday’s cup exit at the hands of Southampton. Many of the youngsters made their way back into the squad joined by a few of first team on the pitch as well as the bench.
One can only surmise that Klopp had the crucial league game against Chelsea on Tuesday night in the back of his mind regarding his team selection. Many of the “kids” were present when Liverpool narrowly scraped a win at Plymouth, a team two leagues lower than Wolves, in the previous round. Surely Wolves would provide a much sterner test against this inexperienced team? And they did.
Had the kids thought they’d get a few minutes to settle into the game, they were sorely mistaken. Fifty-three seconds in and Liverpool conceded the way only Liverpool seem to know how.
Referee, Craig Pawson, awarded Wolves a free kick which was taken a mere ten metres further forward from the original foul. Enough distance to make a significant difference on how the ball was delivered into the box. Add to that a possible offside for the goal scorer, Richard Stearman, and Liverpool could feel aggrieved by the officials.
However, what followed was some unforgivable defending to let Wolves centre-back Richard Stearman head past Karius with ease. Divock Origi, Gini Wijnaldum or Karius didn’t make any attempt for the ball or the man and Liverpool were a goal down within a minute.
But we had done our charity act for the afternoon and there was plenty of time for a comeback, right? Eighty-nine minutes.
How very wrong that thought was. The sheer audacity! Helder Costa, no relation to Diego, was a pain in Liverpool’s backside (he had taken the earlier free kick for Wolves’ opener) and was almost on the scoresheet ten minutes later when Wolves attacked from a Liverpool corner.
He was given a free run all the way to Karius, who watched in disbelief, before Ben Woodburn helped him out with a tackle sending Costa’s shot wide. Liverpool looked to settle somewhat after that and it appeared they might be able to unpick the defensive lock via Firmino but Wolves defended well to keep that final ball out.
The Midlands side employed the tactic of letting Liverpool have the ball and breaking on the counter when possible. And it worked a treat. With their pace upfront they made Liverpool’s defence look woefully inadequate.
At times, Lucas was left for dead leaving fans hearts in their mouths. But in the forty-first minute, those hearts were broken when Paul Lambert’s men picked the ball up outside their own penalty area and Matt Doherty played Costa through with a solitary pass through midfield. Moreno could only watch after his failed tackle as Costa found Weimann who skipped around an advancing Karius and made it 2-0 to the visitors.
An embarrassing scoreline for Klopp to deal with at half-time.
Changes were needed for Liverpool and fast. Klopp has been much criticised for making late substitutions that then have little impact on games. But Coutinho was brought on at the start of the second-half for a struggling Conor Randall.
Liverpool proceeded to go to three at the back without him to contain any further humiliation and spur on some sort of comeback. Coutinho provided the Reds with their first shot on target in the fifty-ninth minute but it didn’t trouble young goalkeeper Harry Burgoyne.
Minutes later, the Brazilian played the ball to a galloping Moreno, but his own pace got the better of him as his first touch pushed the ball out for a goal kick.
To try and add another dimension to the attack, Klopp introduced a much maligned Sturridge but withdrew Firmino in the process, which seemed odd given that at least two goals were needed against yet another stubborn defence. Again, one can only think the manager had Tuesday in mind.
Liverpool fans were given a glimmer of hope in the eighty-sixth minute, when Sturridge headed on from a corner and Origi tapped the ball home. It was a stain on the Wolves defence that had otherwise done very well when a poor clearance was taken advantage of by Liverpool.
A frenetic last few minutes almost had Liverpool level from another corner but Origi’s shot was saved. At the other end, Bödvarsson had a shot blocked by Lucas but it wasn’t enough for Liverpool who left it too little too late.
A second cup exit in four days at Anfield. Klopp couldn’t hide his disappointment in his post-match interview where he said it “was a really bad performance” and that there were “not a lot of good things to say”.
Liverpool have left all their eggs in one basket now and only a win on Tuesday will do. For morale, for belief and for pride if nothing else.
But another Costa lurks in the shadows. For Liverpool’s sake, they must hope that this one doesn’t have the kind of day his namesake did today.