Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 3/4
Wolverhampton Wanderers are set to welcome Liverpool to the Molineux on Monday evening for what will be the 29th Premier League game of the season for the two teams.
Having narrowly missed out on European qualification last year, Wolves are nowhere near that goal this time around, and even with 10 rounds to go, it seems comfortably avoiding a role in a late relegation battle will be all they can do.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s team are currently in 13th place with 35 points to their name, 11 less than Everton in sixth and only nine more than Fulham in 18th. As for their recent form, Wolves won two of their last six Premier League games, drawing three and losing only away to table toppers Manchester City by 4-1. They beat Southampton away by 1-2 and Leeds United at home by 1-0, and they shared the points with Leicester City (home, 0-0), Newcastle United (away, 1-1) and Aston Villa last week (away, 0-0).
Inside that period, Wolves were eliminated in the fifth round of the FA Cup at the hands of Southampton at the Molinaux, ironically, just three days before they beat them at St. Mary’s in the league.
Wolves look relatively decent at the back, but with striker Raul Jimenez absent since November due to a skull fracture, they’ve been struggling to score goals on a regular basis.
Jimenez is back in training and working hard towards the required level of fitness, but he isn’t ready to return yet. Left-back Fernando Marcal isn’t expected to play either, having struggled with several different injuries this season. Winger Daniel Podence is absent with an abductor muscle tear.
Pedro Neto is nailed-on to start upfront, and in the absence of Jimenez and Podence, he’ll likely be joined by Adama Traore and Willian Jose. However, with Jose still to score his first goal for the club since arriving in January, Espirito Santo could opt for young Fabio Silva instead.
At this point, Liverpool can be described as the fallen champions, rather than defending ones. There is absolutely no way they can catch up with Manchester City at the top. Reaching top four will be a formidable challenge for the remaining part of the campaign. Even a place in the Europa League is far from certain. There are, of course, mitigating factors, mostly in the form of unprecedented string of injuries in the centre-back department, but the malaise that has spread throughout the squad seems very difficult to explain.
The Reds are now in eighth place with 43 points, and as harsh as it may sound, their game against Wolves at the moment represents a classic mid-table clash. After Chelsea’s goalless draw against Leeds on Saturday, there is an eight-point gap between Thomas Tuchel’s team in fourth and Liverpool. West Ham are fifth with 48, Everton sixth with 46, and Tottenham Hotspur are seventh with 45.
The fact that Liverpool entered the year sitting top of the table now seems hard to believe, but their recent form has been truly woeful, especially at home. They lost five of their last six league matches, starting with 1-4 at home against Manchester City at the start of February. Then they were beaten 3-1 away to Leicester City, then by Everton at home by 0-2. They reacted to the Merseyside Derby defeat by beating Sheffield United at Bramall Lane by 0-2, before Chelsea and Fulham both took the points from Anfield by winning 0-1.
The only ray of light shining through at the moment is Liverpool’s progress into the quarterfinals of the Champions League, after they beat RB Leipzig twice in the round of 16.
There has been rumour about manager Jurgen Klopp possibly leaving the club soon, but the German himself has dismissed such stories by stating his intention to see the remaining three years of his contract out. What’s more, reliable Merseyside journalists say the club have no intention of sacking Klopp either.
Centre-backs Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, as well as midfielder Jordan Henderson, have all been ruled out for the season. Forward Roberto Firmino missed the Chelsea defeat and the Leipzig rematch through a minor knock. He could be ready to play on Monday, but at the moment, he remains a doubt.
Backup goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher has been missing for over a month now, and with Alisson Becker the undisputed first choice between the posts, Adrian will likely take Kelleher’s place on the bench.
Fabinho has mostly played as a stand-in centre-back this season, but Klopp chose to put him in his preferred midfield role against Leipzig with Nathaniel Phillips and Ozan Kabak in the heart of defence, and the manager indicated that would be the case again at the Molineux. Upfront, former Wolves man Diogo Jota is likely to start alongside Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, with Klopp unlikely to risk Firmino from the start even if the Brazilian is fit.
There is no way to disguise Liverpool’s bad run of form, and it would be folly for them to expect anything but a difficult contest against a very resilient Wolves side. On the other hand, Fabinho’s much-desired presence in midfield seems to have provided a great deal of stability to the team, and they’ll certainly be looking to bounce back in the league, building on the Champions League success.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 3/4