A much-changed Liverpool side bowed out of the FA Cup at the third round, with Rueben Neves’ spectacular 25-year goal deservedly winning the game for Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Whilst both sides had made changes, with Diego Jota returning to the starting eleven for the home side after injury and former Norwich City goalkeeper John Ruddy starting, the visitors made nine changes to their team – with only James Milner and Dejan Lovren surviving from the disappointing away loss at Manchester City four days earlier.
Starting alongside them were summer signings Fabinho in defence and midfielders Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri, with academy players Curtis Jones and Rafa Camacho in the first eleven for the first time.
A slow opening period appeared to set the tempo for the match, with Liverpool’s defensive concerns mounting when Lovren came off barely five minutes into the ninety, sixteen-year-old Dutch academy player Ki-Jana Hoever coming on to become the youngest Reds player to start a competitive game.
As the half wore on, the Reds very slowly grew into the game, Wanderers more than happy to adapt their usual style of play and sit deep in hopes of striking on the counter – a tactic that saw them with the only real attempt on target in the opening 35 minutes and then the first goal as Raul Jiminez scored in the 38th minute, taking advantage of a Milner mistake in midfield.
Confidence growing thanks to the goal from the on-loan Mexican, Wolves upped the ante in both attack and defence – and Liverpool were grateful to hear the half-time whistle, having failed to even attempt a shot on target.
Fired up from going a goal down, Liverpool started the second half with more intensity than the first half – which paid off as Divock Origi scored an impressive goal in the 50th minute, creating room for himself on the edge of the box to fire past Ruddy and drawing the Reds level with only his second goal since May 2017.
Barely five minutes passed, however, before the West Midlands side retook the lead, Ruben Neves scoring a spectacular goal from 25 yards outside the box that gave the defending Liverpool players no chance.
Despite the step-up in attack, it wasn’t until Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah came on that Liverpool really began to threaten the Wolves goal in search of the second equaliser – though Wolves did have further attempts to find a third, Ki-Jana Hoever successfully stretching out a leg in the Liverpool box to stop Jiminez with about sixteen minutes to go.
For all of Liverpool’s attempts, including a decent attempt by Camacho from outside the box, Wolves were able to stand firm until the final whistle, the West Midlands club eliminating the Reds from the FA Cup for the second time in just under two calendar years.
As harsh as it sounds, Liverpool were perhaps deservedly eliminated from the FA Cup – for all of the positives the Reds showed and a few good moments of attack, Wolves clearly showed more intensity and desire to reach the fourth round of the Cup.
However, credit should go out to the academy players starting tonight as well as some but not all of the regular starting players: Curtis Jones and Rafa Camacho did well on their first starts in a senior game, whilst Ki-Jana Hoever did very well in defence considering he is the youngest player to start a first-team game and that he was starting just five minutes into the game – his tackle to stop Jiminez scoring in the second half was very well-timed.
With regards to senior players, Xherdan Shaqiri and Naby Keita were arguably Liverpool’s best players as they tried to feed the ball towards the largely stagnant front strikers, though Origi also deserves credit for his goal.
It was clear from the changes that Jurgen Klopp clearly considered the away league match at Brighton and Hove Albion to be more important – so let’s hope for better luck on the South Coast. We go again!