When the lineups for this game were announced, it seemed fairly clear to me that (a) Klopp knew how difficult of a task this was going to be; and (b) Nuno was keeping an eye towards the game Wolves have to play next. I was right about the first, but wrong about the second. The Wolves manager is wily as they come, but he is also probably the most underappreciated manager in the premier league at the moment. His impact on his team is just as big as Klopp’s has been on his, and what he has already achieved with them is remarkable, considering the resources available to him.
In many moments of this game, Wolves were playing the Liverpool way better than Liverpool themselves. Instead of proving a little sleepy from still digesting their most recent tasty meal of Citizens, Wolves seemed hungry for a fresh one of the red-meat variety. They could have had it, too.
The reality is that all three VAR decisions – the two involved in Mane’s sole goal of the game, and the one that ticked off an otherwise worldie of a play – were right, technically speaking. Lallana used his shoulder, and Mane was not offside. Virgil’s handball was in a previous phase, and didn’t impact the play. Think of United’s goal vs Liverpool in the only game the Reds dropped points this season for a good analogy. The offside was as much of one as Bobby’s famous armpit one, and if the VAR refs called one, they had to call the other. If anything, VAR is emerging as being remarkably consistent, which is maybe one of the biggest things going for it.
Like the old saying goes, if everyone is equally upset at you, then you’re probably doing it right. I do half-jokingly anticipate every attacking premier league player to start shaving every hair in their body, though, just to make as sure as possible they don’t get caught offside by the technology.
The game was otherwise a nervous one, on both ends, and got even scrappier once Traore came in. The last 10 minutes were rather untidy, and Wolves could have easily gotten themselves a prized scalp to add to their growing collection. In the end, though, none of that happened, Liverpool got themselves another 3 points in what is now a procession to a long-coveted premier league title.
Picking a man of the match in a game like this is always tough, but for me, two players stood out for Liverpool. One finished the game while still appearing like a bundle of energy; the Red captain just doesn’t seem to understand the word “stop”. It’s not in his vocabulary, apparently. He considers the area 20 meters in each direction of the centerline as his personal turf, and will viciously hound down anyone who dares to challenge this notion. That he can do this every 3 days is impressive. But a colleague of his, one who didn’t finish the game, who has not featured much in this side, was even better today. Adam Lallana has always been a massive yet somewhat unfulfilled promise for Liverpool, and today he showed so much of what makes him so. His game intelligence, the way he closed down half the Wolves team at times, and the way he started transitions for his team, all earned him my choice from this match. By the time he left the pitch, he was obviously gassed, because he left it all out there.
Without Lallana, I think the wolves’ lair would have had another carcass come the new year.
Instead, Liverpool is now some crazy number of points ahead of some other teams, none of whom really matter anymore, at least not in terms of the title. Merseyside and the city of Liverpool better get ready for that parade and just declare a holiday. I don’t think anyone will be able to get anywhere on May 18th, anyway.