Diogo Jota’s winning return to Wolverhampton Wanderers was overshadowed by a worrying head injury to goalkeeper Rui Patricio that led to a 14-minute delay at the end of Liverpool’s hard-fought victory.
Jota scored the only goal but the nature of Patricio’s sickening injury, as he lain prone on the pitch before medics finally stretchered him off giving him oxygen, will lead to a debate as to how the offside law is implemented.
Patricio was caught full in the face by the knee of team-mate Conor Coady as the defender ran back to try and prevent Mohamed Salah scoring. Salah’s shot hit the net but he was pulled up for offside – with the current directive to allow play to go on even if it is unnecessary as it was in this case. But why risk such injuries?
Jota was sold by Wolves for up to £45million last September and they must have feared that his return, having recently recovered from a knee injury, would lead to his first goal since November being scored against them.
The result means Liverpool are up to sixth, overtaking Tottenham Hotspur and Everton, and more importantly, just five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea after the weekend results went for them. They are back in the chase for a Champions League place.
Was Sadio Mane too ‘honest’? Should he have gone down as he rounded Rui Patricio mid-way through the first-half? It looked like the Liverpool forward would score anyway as he ran onto Georginio Wijnaldum’s threaded pass through the middle and pushed the ball past Patricio but was forced to take an extra touch as the goalkeeper reached out and – also – probably caught him. Mane stayed on his feet but his eventual shot came from too tight an angle and was blocked by Nelson Semedo. If he had gone down then VAR would probably have taken a look and a penalty could have followed.
Either way it was a remarkably open contest and stayed just like that. Wolves did not approach it like a team becalmed in mid-table and threatened from the first minute when Alisson fumbled Adama Traore’s cross and referee Craig Pawson was unmoved after Semedo went down as the goalkeeper collected the ball.
Moments later and Alisson did far better in thwarting Semedo with Traore again involved as he picked out the wing-back who shifted the ball inside only for his shot to be held. Nuno Espirito Santo spun on his heels in frustration and did so again when Pedro Neto broke down the left and switched play to pick out Traore whose control let him down with Andrew Robertson rushing back to cover.
Wolves pushed their wing-backs high and wide, presumably to force block the forward runs of Liverpool’s full-backs and it worked. Again it was Semedo threatening as he crossed but as Willian Jose shaped to volley Nat Phillips stretched to beat him to it with a header.
It was Liverpool who went close again when Mohamed Salah laid the ball off to Trent Alexander-Arnold on the corner of the Wolves penalty area. He crossed and it was met by Mane with a diving header that flew narrowly past the post.
Eventually Thiago Alcantara was cautioned for persistent fouling, with Traore once more causing problems, which gave Ruben Neves the opportunity to test Alisson from a free-kick. It was powerful enough but easily dealt with. Neves was presented with a far clearer chance as Jonny Otto’s cross ran all the way through to him. Unmarked the midfielder had time, took his time but drove the ball wastefully wide before holding his head.
How he would rue that. On half-time Mane and Salah combined with Mane returning the ball across the area to Jota who drove a low shot. Patricio got a hand to it but was it too powerful or should he have done better? Either way he was beaten and Liverpool finally had the lead as Jota stifled his celebration. Wolves frustration was summed up by the reaction of captain Conor Coady.
Early in the second-half the defender was presented with the chance to make amends when he reached Romain Saiss’s cross – only to head over – as Wolves continued to push. Coady knew he should have done better as should Jonny when he was picked out by Neto inside the Liverpool area only to panic and scuff his cut-back. Jose also failed to show any composure as the striker should have played in Traore but over-hit his pass.
Robertson led the response. Firstly by bursting down the left with Salah failing to capitalise and then, twice, holding off Traore as the winger attempted to force his way past him. However Traore did better when faced with Ozan Kabak only for Alisson, with a strong hand, to push out his low cross. Joao Moutinho’s follow-up was charged down.
It became increasingly frantic. Wolves frustration grew and not least because they were unfortunate to be behind and Klopp switched up his midfield with Traore holding off one of the replacements, Naby Keita, before firing straight at Alisson. By now Liverpool were being continually pushed back with Alexander-Arnold hooking clear before Neto could reach another cross.
When Salah found space down the right it looked like Liverpool could double their advantage but Patricio did well to turn away his angled shot before holding onto another effort by Jota. Following Patricio’s injury the game finally resumed with Liverpool managing to see out the win.