Liverpool’s defensive injury crisis took a turn for the worst as a rotated side was knocked out of the FA Cup by Wolves.
Jurgen Klopp’s options at centre-back are becoming increasingly limited as he hopes to guide the Reds to a first ever Premier League title win.
However, there were still some encouraging signs to come out of the Molineux tie for Fantasy managers as they eye up future blank Gameweeks.
Wolves 2-1 Liverpool
Dejan Lovren (£4.9m) was added to the injury list at Molineux on Monday night as he came off with a hamstring in the sixth minute. At this early stage, there is no word on how long the Croatian international could be absent for. That is obviously made all the more frustrating by the fact that Joe Gomez (£4.9m) and Joel Matip (£4.9m) are still out of action too, presenting Klopp with some serious potential problems at the heart of his defence.
“Hamstring [is] what I heard. Without any signs before. I asked everybody – no signs, nothing, just out of the blue. Did you ever hear a manager who can tell you that right after the game? No. I don’t know. You have to wait. I want to know, believe me, but I don’t know in this moment.” – Jurgen Klopp
After the game, Klopp said he hadn’t even intended to start Lovren but had his hand forced by other problems, including having to leave Virgil van Dijk (£6.4m) at home for precautionary reasons. Jordan Henderson (£5.3m) and Adam Lallana (£6.9m) were also cited by the German as players who were initially going to be involved before sustaining injuries, with some members of the national press suggesting the former might have been used in defence.
“Yesterday, Adam (Lallana) was in our plans, like Hendo (Jordan Henderson). Dejan was not in the plans – he should have only been on the bench. It happened what happened. We had to make a few changes already, it was clear. Virg cannot play; he is at home and hopefully, it is nothing, but he has played all the games so far.” – Jurgen Klopp
With only little information on the reasons behind van Dijk’s absence, as well as other the build-up of injuries, there is a lot currently up in the air about Liverpool’s back-line. Some Fantasy managers had been considering a double-up on their defence in the coming weeks, Andrew Robertson (£6.6m) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (£5.2m) the targetted pair in many cases, but those plans may well be shelved now. The fact that Liverpool were forced into playing most of their FA Cup tie at Wolves with Fabinho (£5.5m) and 16-year-old Ki-Jana Hoever, Lovren’s replacement, at centre-back may not provide the required confidence in their back-line to justify doubling up.
“I’m not sure what you all would have said if we bring immediately from the beginning, with our centre-half situation, is Fabinho and Ki-Jana. Then probably a few smart people would tell me that I don’t respect the competition or whatever. It doesn’t make sense to bring in a 16-year-old boy (Hoever) from the start. You don’t bring him, you wait until he is completely ready, but he did well. That’s how it sometimes starts – when you are really needed, then it is only about if you are good enough – and not how old you are.” – Jurgen Klopp
However, it is worth noting that teenage debutant Hoever was actually one of the better performers for Liverpool at Molineux. The player is not yet available to sign in Fantasy Premier League, but the next few days could prove crucial as to whether the youngster is required in the first team for league matches, with the Gameweek 22 press conference coming on either Thursday or Friday. If Hoever is subsequently added to FPL because of injuries to other centre-backs, it seems unlikely he will be priced higher than £5.0m, so he could prove a potential bargain at some stage.
In truth, Liverpool’s defence was hardly left exposed on a regular basis in its makeshift state against Wolves. The hosts had offered little threat before Raúl Jiménez (£6.4m) pounced on a James Milner (£5.6m) error in midfield, pushing into the space vacated by Alberto Moreno (£4.1m), and slotting past Simon Mignolet (£4.8m) unchallenged. Meanwhile, Wolves’ second goal was a typical Ruben Neves (£4.9m) wonder-strike from range than swerved and dipped before nestling in the bottom corner. There was little the defence could have done to stop the effort and it would be harsh to blame the defeat entirely on Liverpool’s back-line.
Klopp was especially slammed by portions of the national press for using so many youngsters in the game, 17-year-old midfielder Curtis Jones and 18-year-old right-back Rafael Camacho starting the game. but they actually largely outshone their more senior colleagues. The German seemed especially defiant over the involvement of the young
“We are not here to be new world-record holders for the youngest team. It’s nice. The boys are around, the boys train with us. That’s why they train with us because we think they are good enough. We play 10v10, they are on the other team and believe me, they play much better than they did tonight. Just tonight it was not possible.” – Jurgen Klopp
Where the Reds looked significantly below par was further up the pitch with the front pairing of Daniel Sturridge (£5.7m) and Divock Origi (£5.0m) struggling to gel. They only completed one pass between them in the first half and a combined total of just one touch of the ball in Wolves’ 18-yard-box. In fact, Sturridge and Shaqiri were the only players to have possession in the hosts’ penalty area. Origi’s 51st-minute goal represented Liverpool’s first shot on target in the match. Shaqiri’s free-kick, tipped onto the post by John Ruddy (£4.3m), was the only other real chance Klopp’s men had. Mohamed Salah (£13.3m) and Roberto Firmino (£9.2m) entered the fray for the last 20 minutes but were unable to conjure up a fight-back.
“It’s my responsibility. It’s about rhythm, of course. You know they can’t have rhythm. Div, can he have rhythm? Not really. Daniel? Maybe, a bit more. Alberto? No rhythm. And that doesn’t help against an opponent in Wolves who we played here two weeks ago. They are really strong; we won but we knew it was really tough. (Wolves) didn’t change a lot, so it’s not easy. I always expect a lot more from the players, but could they have delivered today? I am not 100 per cent sure. It is not my job to say now ‘that was not good enough and that was not good enough’. I know they can do much better. We changed a lot because we had to, not because I just wanted to have a look. But the problem is that we have played with a similar line-up and in really tough games the last couple of weeks, so it was clear, we had to change. That’s all.” – Jurgen Klopp
Despite the discouraging factors we have already discussed, there are still positives for Fantasy managers looking ahead to future Gameweeks. Fulham’s FA Cup exit at the hands of League Two outfit Oldham Athletic means that Liverpool will play Claudio Ranieri’s men at Craven Cottage in Gameweek 31, when the two competitions clash for the first time. Currently Fulham v Liverpool is the only match confirmed for that weekend in the middle of March. Last season, the Reds were one of the few teams to present strong captain candidates in Blank Gameweek 31, with Salah scoring four times in a 5-0 win over Watford. Having their options available for Blank Gameweek 31 again this time around will certainly prove helpful to Fantasy managers, especially if they are facing a Fulham side that has struggled at both ends of the pitch at times this season.
Liverpool being out of the FA Cup is also good news for anyone worried about rotation during January and February. Klopp’s men will now get at least two free weekends surplus to their title rivals between now and Gameweek 31, on January 26 (FA Cup fourth round) and February 16 (FA Cup fifth round). It also means there will be a 10-day gap between the Gameweek 26 visit of Bournemouth to Anfield and Liverpool’s Champions League second round first leg clash with Bayern Munich.
In contrast to Liverpool’s approach, Wolves came into the FA Cup tie with fewer changes to their starting XI. Rui Patricio (£4.5m), Matt Doherty (£5.2m) were the only members of the regular starting crop to miss out on a place in the first XI, while Helder Costa (£4.8m) and Ivan Cavaleiro (£5.2m), and Doherty, were used as second-half substitutes.
The back-three comprised of the usual suspects, Willy Boly (£4.6m), Conor Coady (£4.5m) and Ryan Bennett (£4.1m), while Leander Dendoncker (£4.3m) caused Liverpool problems in a central midfield role.
Leading the line, as always, was forward Jiménez, who has attacking returns against Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea and now Liverpool this season. The Mexican seems to really relish matches against the big sides, suggesting that he should have the benefit of the doubt when his owners have to decide whether or not to bench him for tougher fixtures. Wolves travel to face Manchester City this weekend, so Fantasy managers will be faced with that dilemma this weekend.
Diogo Jota (£5.9m) returned from his injury doubt to start the match, but was substituted in the 52nd minute to give him the chance to rest.
“It’s something that we had prepared (substitution). He’s coming back from the injury. He did fantastic in the first half, (that was) the way we worked on it in the training. He’s OK but he doesn’t have 90 minutes in his legs.” – Nuno Espirito Santo
Wolves XI (3-1-4-2): Ruddy; Boly, Coady, Bennett; Neves; Vinagre, Dendoncker, Moutinho, Jonny (Doherty 75′); Jota (Cavaleiro 52′), Jiménez (Costa 83′).
Liverpool XI (4-4-2): Mignolet; Moreno, Fabinho, Lovren (Hoever 6′), Camacho; Jones (Firmino 70′), Keita, Milner, Shaqiri; Origi, Sturridge (Salah 70′).
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