112It was like we’d just met in the car park!
But Klopp’s jet-lagged men rally to seal a remarkable comeback
By Joe Bernstein
dmg media (UK)
MAYBE Jurgen Klopp should carry on complaining if his players respond like this when feeling the world is against them. Klopp’s latest gripe — being given a Saturday lunchtime kick-off when four of his key players had just flown back from South America — had initially appeared to backfire, with Liverpool looking as fatigued in the first half as their manager had feared. But trailing 1-0, they found a renewed energy and spirit to complete a remarkable turnaround to add to comeback wins at Bournemouth and Newcastle earlier in the season. Mo Salah, kept from the clutches of Saudi Arabia, had a hand in all three goals as Liverpool ended their 12.30pm hoodoo, having failed to win any of their six early games last season. They are now unbeaten in the Premier League since April 1, a run of 16 games, and stand-in captain Andy Robertson could not have found a better way to mark his 200th top-flight game than to score the decisive second goal near the end. ‘We weren’t ready in the first half. We were not there,’ said Klopp. ‘It was a disorganised team, like they’d just met in the car park. But I’ve been in football long enough to know not to get massively down. ‘The team needed a bit of help in personnel and system change and then they could deliver. It was a completely different game in the second half and over 90 minutes, we deserved the win.’ World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister was hooked at half-time, having only returned on Friday after international duty with Argentina in Bolivia, and getting an early caution for fouling Matheus Cunha. ‘I don’t think he minded too much to be taken off, maybe a bit relieved,’ admitted Klopp. ‘You could see his legs just weren’t there.’ Wolves fans must be scratching their heads at the final outcome. They sensed an upset with Liverpool missing Virgil van Dijk (suspended) and Trent AlexanderArnold (hamstring) and Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez on the bench after their long-haul travels. After seven minutes Pedro Neto skimmed past Joe Gomez, and when his cross fizzed past a makeshift Reds defence Hwang Hee-chan beat Robertson to sidefoot his third goal in four games. The visitors could not string two passes together and Diogo Jota and Mac Allister both gesticulated to show their displeasure at a lack of movement around them. Wolves could not capitalise, though, with a second goal, as Neto fired into the side-netting and debutant Jean-Ricner Bellegarde attempting a backheel at the wrong time. Yet Liverpool kept the score down to one and finished the half stronger with Salah having a shot blocked by Mario Lemina and Jose Sa stopping the rebound from Dominik Szoboszlai. Once Diaz had come on for Mac Allister, the tide changed. Klopp even managed to make an impact with a double-substitution before they had entered the pitch. Nunez and Harvey Elliott were on the touchline stripped and waiting to go on when the front three of Diogo Jota, Salah and Cody Gakpo saw them and were inspired to combine for an equaliser after 55 minutes. Salah’s low cross was touched in by the Dutchman, but Klopp stuck to his guns and replaced him with Nunez before the match restarted. The momentum towards Liverpool was now irresistible and Robertson was finally rewarded for his bold breaks into the Wolves half. A poor goalkick was intercepted by Elliott, who fed Salah. The Egyptian threaded a clever pass for Robertson, who burst into the box and tucked home a tidy finish like a natural goalscorer. ‘Robbo wasn’t the only senior player out there, we had Alisson, Mo (Salah), but he is important for us,’ said Klopp. ‘He can be proud of this big number, 200. Scoring in a game like this is big. It wouldn’t have been possible without making the changes from the first half so he could get into the box.’ Wolves heads dropped and Liverpool finished the job with a third. Salah teed up Elliott, whose shot deflected off Hugo Bueno and the post before nestling in the net. ‘It was a crazy second goal to concede,’ said Wolves boss Gary O’Neil. ‘They played quite loosely and have been like that for a long time. But we won’t be ultimately judged on results against teams like Liverpool.’