27 January 2017

Liverpool v Wolverhampton 01.28.17

7:30am ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 1

Last four head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (a) 01.31.12
2-1 Liverpool (h) 09.24.11
3-0 Liverpool (a) 01.22.11
0-1 Wolves (h) 12.29.10

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Southampton (h); 2-3 Swansea (h); 1-0 Plymouth (a)
Wolves: 1-3 Norwich (a); 1-0 Villa (h); 2-0 Stoke (a)

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: 1-0 Plymouth (a), 0-0 Plymouth (h)
Wolves: 2-0 Stoke (a)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Mané 9; Firmino, Lallana, Origi 7; Coutinho, Sturridge 6; Milner 5; Can 3; Lovren, Wijnaldum 2; Henderson, Klavan, Matip, Woodburn 1
Wolves: Costa 9; Edwards 7; Cavaleiro, Doherty, Mason 4; Bödvarsson, Oniangue, Teixeira 2; Batth, Coady, Hause, Saville, Wallace1

Referee: Craig Pawson

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Gomez Moreno
Wijnaldum Henderson Can
Firmino Origi

I am of two minds about this.

It's still the FA Cup, even if made slightly more important by Liverpool's exit from the League Cup on Wednesday, and made slightly more important by successive home losses, but the FA Cup nonetheless. It ain't the league, and it certainly ain't a league match against Chelsea this coming Tuesday.

I want to think it's still predominantly an opportunity for the kids, a line-up more like that against Plymouth Argyle than not. It could well be this season's last senior opportunity, at least as starters, for a lot of these kids.

But that's probably not going to be the case.

Klopp revealed he intends to name a ‘slightly more’ experienced team to that which twice faced Plymouth Argyle in the competition, though checks will be made on several players.

“It’s not final who we can line up tomorrow, because we had a few knocks after the game and have to wait a little bit,” he said at his pre-match press conference.

“But we’ll have enough and a very good team for tomorrow. We will not make 10 changes or something. A few changes we have to make."

Which is fair. Liverpool aren't in a good situation at the moment. Liverpool's only win in 2017 came in this competition, against a League Two side, and Liverpool very much need to get back to winning ways. That seems even more true with the league leaders to come to Anfield a matter of days after this.

That said, I've probably got too many senior players in the above guessed XI. I remain concerned about Henderson's lingering heel injury and Coutinho only recently back from an extended absence. Matip's in a similar situation – a lingering injury and not long back from an extended absence – but he's also much more in need of matches. Clyne's 50-50; it sounds like Klopp wants to start him if at all possible, but I'd be tempted to hold off until Tuesday regardless.

I also remain concerned about Firmino's utility out wide, whether on the right or left, which is why the above guess is shaped in a midfield diamond. Even if that's the case – which, again, there's a good chance it won't be – it'll still look 4-3-3 an awful lot of the time.

I want to see Gomez, especially when paired with Matip. I wouldn't mind seeing Moreno, although that's a dangerous thing to write. I expect to see Karius keep his place in the cups, again impressive against Southampton. There could well be spots for Stewart, Ejaria, or Woodburn even with a more senior XI.

As with Plymouth Argyle, I'm in the position of previewing opposition I know little about. And, not to be patronizing, but it's probably safe to assume we'll see a good deal of what we saw in that match. What we saw against Southampton. What we've seen in the majority of Liverpool matches of late. Opposition coming to Anfield and happy to sit deep, first and foremost and everything else focused on preventing Liverpool from scoring, congesting the final third, refusing to allow anything through the middle, forcing Liverpool out wide, then counter-attacking through direct football if and when given the chance.

That might be a bit unfair on Wolves. They've lost just two of their last seven matches, winning four, including a thorough and deserved 2-0 victory at full-strength Stoke in the last round. They're 18th in the Championship, but that has more to do with the manager fired earlier in the season – after taking over at the end of July, replacing Kenny Jackett, who'd managed the club for three years and got them promoted from League One – than the current one, a reasonable start to the season followed by just two wins from 15 from the end of August through November. Paul Lambert, appointed in November, has steadied the side over the last two and a half months, even if it's only seen Wolves climb a solitary place in the table.

Wolves hover right around the median in all of Ben Mayhew's Championship scatter graphics, which is a bit confusing for a side that sits 18th. It should provide a warning that Wolves can play, and if given the chance, Wolves can hurt Liverpool.

My best guess at an XI is what's listed in WhoScored's preview, also basically the XI which started the 1-3 loss at Norwich a week ago. Burgoyne; Iorfa, Stearman, Batth, Doherty; Price, Edwards; Costa, Mason, Weimann; Bödvarsson. Edwards has been at Wolves for seemingly forever, and played in the Wolverhampton team which (sigh) beat Roy Hodgson's Liverpool at Anfield in 2010. Mason scored against Liverpool in the 2012 League Cup final for Cardiff. Weimann, while at Aston Villa (under Paul Lambert), gave Liverpool fits on multiple occasions.

The two changes from last Saturday's match is that goalkeeper Carl Ikeme's suspended (oh joy, another opportunity for a back-up keeper to play out of his mind against Liverpool) and Cavaleiro doubtful through injury. Ex-Liverpool player Conor Coady's only started two of Wolves' four matches this month, his spot in midfield taken by Academy graduate Jack Price and more often used as right-back under Lambert.

Liverpool, no matter who starts, just need to stop the rot. It'd be nice to stay in this competition. It'd be even nicer to avoid a replay. But more important is Liverpool finding confidence and playing Liverpool football. And you're probably not going to find confidence without winning, and you're not winning without playing Liverpool football.

Play Liverpool football.

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