Wolves Liverpool Premier League Tactical Analysis

This post originally featured on our dedicated analysis site for football around the globe, totalfootballanalysis.com

Wolves put in a valiant performance against Liverpool, however, Jurgen Klopp’s side were simply superior all over the pitch and were good value for their 2-0 win. Some would argue that Matt Doherty should’ve been awarded a penalty not long before the interval. Others would say it would’ve been harsh.

Irrespective of decisions that were or weren’t given, there’s at least something that we can all agree on. Virgil van Dijk is a monster. Adama Traore is the fastest player in world football, according to FIFA, yet VVD managed the Spaniard expertly.

In this tactical analysis, we’ll look at the battle between the aforementioned pairing, Liverpool’s two goals and who knows, maybe something else as a Christmas treat. We shall see.

Team news

Before moving on to the game itself, we shall look at the two starting lineups.

As you can see from above, Moutinho played between the lines, essentially in Gibbs-White’s position while Saiss partnered Neves in the centre of midfield. With the absence of Jota, Adama Traore was selected up top.

It’ll be interesting to see what Nuno does for the game against Fulham as the pairing of Jimenez and Traore wasn’t that successful.

Klopp made a couple of changes as Milner came in for Clyne and Henderson replaced Wijnaldum. Mo Salah continued as a central striker and to say he was effective would be a huge understatement.

As the above ratings show, Liverpool had three players rated above eight. Alisson, VVD and Salah. That pretty much sums the game up, those three were a class above and ultimately made the difference.  

The art of defending

Traore had a couple of half-chances before Salah put Liverpool in front. VVD marshalled Traore magnificently and rather than diving in, he kept him out wide. Have a look.

Rather than looking at the chance that came about from a poor Fabinho pass, we’ll view the one which should have been right up Traore’s alley to do some damage.

Wolves Liverpool Premier League Tactical Analysis
One on one, you’d back Traore.

Jimenez does well to bring Traore into the game and because Lovren has pressurised the Mexican, it leaves Traore in a direct duel versus van Dijk. All that needs to be done here is Traore to knock it beyond the Dutchman and then he gets on his bike.

That’s not exactly how it pans out…

Wolves Liverpool Premier League Tactical Analysis
Marvellous defending.

VVD goes with Traore. For some reason, Adama opts against trying the old ‘knock and run’ so VVD just goes with him all the way. What I’ve done with the two red lines is signified where Traore could’ve gone. If he knocks it out wide he would have had to wait for the supporting cast to arrive and the counter would be dead in the water.

Alternatively, if he burst inside, you’d guess that one of two things would happen. 1) van Dijk would bring him down, get sent off and the game would open up completely. 2) van Dijk wouldn’t risk the tackle which would leave Traore in a foot race with Lovren and there’s only one winner there. Hindsight is wonderful. In the end, Traore did precisely what VVD wanted him to do.

Take your shot

Wolves Liverpool Premier League Tactical Analysis
Traore fires wide.

VVD ushers Adama Traore down the side and practically invites him to shoot. Alisson is a top class keeper and it would take a very, very good effort from there to beat the Brazilian.

Unfortunately for Wolves, the effort is dragged wide of the far post. Many defenders in VVD’s position would’ve dived in and Traore would’ve been through on goal.

We’ll revisit VVD later on when we look at his goal, beforehand, let’s see his performance in numbers.

Wolves Liverpool Premier League Tactical Analysis
Credit: SofaScore.

Just the 91% success rate when it comes to his passing. He also won every duel. Staggering, sensational, superb. I could use adjectives to describe his performance until the cows come home, although I guess that’s not why you came here.

Slick movement or sloppiness?

Liverpool took the lead in the 19th minute, which means that Wolves have now conceded 10 of their 21 goals in the middle third of the first half.

In fact, if you look bigger than that, Wolves have shipped 16 of their 21 in the middle third of both halves. 15-30 mins and 60-75 mins, in case you haven’t quite followed that. Now, we shall analyse how Liverpool broke the deadlock.

Wolves Liverpool Premier League Tactical Analysis
Salah scores after being assisted by Fabinho.

The white arrows denote the approximate finishing positions of both Mo Salah and Fabinho. So, just how do they both end up there and most importantly how do they end up there unescorted?

Wolves Liverpool Premier League Tactical Analysis
Salah (circled) begins to drift inside.

A quick interchange with Mane and Fabinho is in far too much room after Boly is too slow to respond. Mane’s intelligence to move out wide opens the gap for Fabinho to play in. It’ll be clearer below.

Wolves Liverpool Premier League Tactical Analysis
Fabinho runs passed a static Boly.

Boly’s lack of awareness is sloppy. If you watch the goal back, Neves even signals to the Frenchman that Fabinho is coming his way. Mane’s deft pass is picked up by Fabinho who tees up Salah wonderfully.

Wolves Liverpool Premier League Tactical Analysis
One touch to finish.

Salah, who sneaks around the back, still has over a yard on Conor Coady which gives him all the room he needs to put the Reds one-nil up. Coady either doesn’t get told that Salah is coming or, like Boly, he’s too slow at reacting. Sloppiness on one part, slick movement on the other.

Wolves had spells, but nothing overly convincing

Wolves Liverpool Premier League Tactical Analysis
Credit: SofaScore.

Come the end of the first half, the only side that would’ve been relieved to hear the sound of Craig Pawson’s whistle was Liverpool. Wolves’ wing-backs were causing Liverpool all sorts of problems as Jimenez and Traore were pulling out wide to allow space for Jonny and Doherty to move more centrally. Jonny had an effort saved as did his teammate on the other wing, Doherty.

Between the time Liverpool took the lead and halftime, Wolves peppered Alisson’s goal with five attempts. They only managed six more for the rest of the game.

Klopp regrouped at the interval and Wolves’ wing-backs were completely restricted and when van Dijk made it two that was the game done and dusted. What we shall do now is look at how the ex-Southampton man did just that.

Too much room – again!

Last season, Salah was involved in a goal every 68 (rounded up) minutes. So, why Wolves would leave him on his own on the edge of the area is a mystery. It’s not even like they didn’t have enough bodies back to mark him. Have a little look.

Wolves Liverpool Premier League Tactical Analysis
The two circles are key.

Circle number one, near side, shows two Wolves players marking space. Yes, you could argue that the Liverpool player coming inside should be picked up by one Wolves player. Either way, that still leaves a spare player on Nuno’s side.

Then, look at the circle of Mo Salah. Why is a player of his quality being left on his own? Rather unsurprisingly, Salah has enough time to put the ball into the box.

Wolves Liverpool Premier League Tactical Analysis
Fine margins once again.

Bennett, who was marking van Dijk when the original ball from Robertson came in, gave the Dutchman some room as he pulled off to the edge of the area before Salah got the ball.

In my opinion, that was the right thing to do as if Bennett had gone with him, he would’ve been out of position. Inadvertently, van Dijk then has the run on Bennett, Salah plays the perfect ball and that’s it. van Dijk runs between Coady and Bennett and finishes first time.

A deserved three points

Wolves Liverpool Premier League Tactical Analysis
Credit: Infogol.

While Wolves may have had the second-best chance of the game through Morgan Gibbs-White (0.48), Liverpool had four chances better than Wolves second-best chance. What does this tell us?

Firstly, Liverpool were perhaps slightly wasteful after finishing 0.44 goals below their expected xG. Secondly, Liverpool were immense defensively, namely van Dijk, as we’ve already touched on.

Nuno will know that even though Liverpool were the better side, there were a number of crucial aspects which affected the Molineux side’s performance after the break.

Final thoughts

Wolves can take heart from their performance against Liverpool and if Fosun’s aims of domination are to be realised, that’s the benchmark that needs to be aimed for. Liverpool, on the other hand, remain unbeaten and after City’s loss at home to Palace, they’re on the front foot as the new year approaches.

Wolves have a doubleheader in London next on the agenda, Fulham on Boxing Day followed by Spurs a couple of days later. Klopp’s side host Newcastle before Arsenal visit Anfield. Then, there’s the big game against City in the new year.

If Wolves can beat Fulham, they’ll move to back to seventh before anybody else plays on the same day. That’ll certainly make it a very Merry Christmas indeed.

Until the next time.


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I've got an unhealthy obsession with Wolves, Wolverhampton Wanderers, WWFC, whatever you fancy calling us today. When we win I'm on top of the world, when we lose I'm a nightmare to be around. It's been that way for as long as I can remember and people tell me that you're meant to grow out of it, however, I don't envisage that happening anytime soon. Anyway, I'm the lead analyst on here and while I try and keep my opinion out of my writing, sometimes it's too difficult to do that. I also use the terms 'we' and 'us' when talking about Wolves and I do try and remain impartial although it's debatable whether or not I do. In hindsight, I'm probably over critical of Wolves in the same manner that I'm over complimentary, so I guess it all balances itself out in the end. Grab yourself a cuppa and have a look around.