It was a game of two halves at Molineux on Saturday lunchtime as Wolves let a half time lead slip to Liverpool, and there were plenty of post-match talking points to discuss.
Flying out of the traps
Wolves produced arguably their best 45-minute performance under Gary O’Neil on Saturday as the Old Gold started the Liverpool clash on the front foot, attacking the Reds and putting the opposition under pressure from the off. Pedro Neto was causing several issues for Joe Gomez and the Liverpool defence with the winger setting up his opposite number Hee Chan Hwang for the opener, to secure his fourth assist in three, while the South Korean netted his third of the campaign.
After the match, legendary Wolves full-back Andy Thompson said: “You could see Wolves’ game plan straight from the off. They were trying to tempt Liverpool into passing those balls through the central area that they were stealing and pinching, but they also had an effectiveness going forward. The way they ran at the Liverpool defence – they caused them all sorts of problems. Especially Neto down the left-hand side, I thought he caused Liverpool and Gomez loads of problems, and it opened up opportunities. We got the goal, which was a good finish from Hwang, from a Neto cross, and we maintained it throughout the half.”
Wolves 300 club member and former left-back Lee Naylor added: “They just got their units right. Their defensive unit was right, their midfield unit was right and the wide men and the striker’s unit were right. They were all working together, they compacted the middle of the pitch where Liverpool wanted to come through, and Liverpool like to get in those areas between the lines, but Wolves set traps and they dealt with it. And when they broke, they broke with quality, Neto flying at defenders, and Liverpool found it very difficult, but we made it difficult for them. That’s what the first half was about.”
Not taking chances proves costly
The host’s dominance in the first half saw plenty of chances fall the way of O’Neil’s side as Neto continued to be a large threat, alongside debutant Jean-Ricner Bellegarde, who both provided lots of energy into the attack. But Wolves were unable to add a second goal which could have proved crucial to the way the game panned out, with the best opportunity falling to Matheus Cunha unmarked in the Liverpool box, but the Brazilian misread the Portuguese’s cross and couldn’t turn the ball in from a matter of yards.
Thompson: “It was a good performance from him in that first half, but he was just unable to score. Neto putting that ball across and Cunha, when he looks at it again, he’s going to be very disappointed he hasn’t scored. There was no pace on the ball, but if he got any solid contact on the ball, he’s scoring, because he’s that close to the goal and Alisson’s not going to get it.
“You don’t want to say that it’s a turning point in the game, where you’ve squandered a chance or not took that opportunity to score, but you can’t miss a chance like that. If you get a chance to put the ball in the net, any kind of contact on it, it’s a goal and he just made a total mess of it. Those are the chances that win you games, and you need to be taking them.”
Reds’ second half fightback
Wolves were not able to maintain their same level of energy and control on the game during the second half, and were penalised for not adding a second goal before the break as they came out with their backs to the wall for the second period. Liverpool immediately put the hosts under pressure, with the Old Gold cracking 10 minutes into the half as Mohamed Salah picked out Cody Gakpo at the far post.
Naylor: “It’s very hard to stay at the standard Wolves were playing in the first half for 90 minutes. It really is. But you’ve got to do it. The half-time talk would have been let’s stick together, let’s keep our units, and that fell apart in the second half. Liverpool had a corner in the first minute of the second half and that put you under the cosh straight away. You want to keep the ball as far away from your goal as possible, or you keep it with good possession, and, for me, we just started the half off on the wrong foot.”
Thompson: “I just felt we gave the ball away far too easily. When we had options in the first half, they weren’t there in the second half. We got deeper and invited Liverpool onto us. There were a number of things we did in the first half which we didn’t do in the second, but you’ve got to try and play to your strengths. We needed to make it as difficult as we can for Liverpool, and we’ve still got quality players out there who can cause problems, but we kept giving it away and no matter who you’re playing against, you’re going to invite pressure.”
With the game entering the final five minutes, many of the Wolves players were tiring, as O’Neil turned to his bench to bring fresh legs to the side. However, it was a lack of concentration from those in gold as Liverpool found the net for a second time in the half to secure all three points late on. Andy Robertson picked up the ball on the half-way line from a loose Jose Sa clearance, and having played the ball out to Salah was left unmarked by the Wolves players in the box as he made his way to divert the ball past the keeper at the near post.
Thompson: “We’ve got enough bodies behind the ball to pick him [Robertson] up. He’s come from the half-way line, we’ve just defended a corner, we’ve got enough bodies there, and as a captain, as a defender, as a goalkeeper – whoever you want to point the finger at – one of them has got to delegate, or take it yourself, to stay with him. He’s just run clean through three or four players. He’s just run past them, and all Salah’s done is played it into his path for him to hit first time. You’ve got to be picking him up.”
Naylor: “We were praising Sa [earlier in the game] for holding onto the ball because there was nothing on, but that was on. Neto one-v-one if the ball is correct. The ball wasn’t correct and so it puts us back under the cosh. I don’t mind that, but at the same time, there’s got to be some game management. In the 85th minute, you do have to look at it differently. On the flip side, you’ve got 10 players [between Robertson and the goal] and he has literally just run straight through without anyone saying pick him up. It’s not like they can’t see him coming! Everyone has seen that danger and not a single one of them did anything about it.”
Bellegarde’s promising debut
Saturday gave the Wolves supporters a chance to see one of the new additions to the pack as late deadline day signing Bellegarde was brought into the starting line-up for the first time since his arrival in the West Midlands. The Frenchman was a big threat for O’Neil’s side throughout the first period, attempting the third most dribbles of his side behind Neto and Cunha, as well as providing cover in midfield as he dispossessed the Reds, but tired quickly after the break as he adapted to life in the Premier League.
Thompson: “First half, I was very impressed with him, with the way he plays and the positive runs he would make at the Liverpool defence. You could see that he was starting to struggle in the second half, coming into a new league and the pace of the Premier League, just shows you the difference. There were a number of things that would have caused it, but we saw glimpses about what we are hoping that he’s going to offer the team.
“He’s positive, he’s confident on the ball, he’s got good ability at running with it and that’s what you want from the players you bring into the team. I hope he’s going to give us that spark, and he definitely did it in the first half – but he was running around with wooden legs in the second half, because he was suffering from cramp, he couldn’t bend his legs, but he wasn’t the only one.”