By Ritchie Slack (@Slack_9)Embed from Getty Images
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The dawning of a new day is upon us: the return of the Anfield supporters for the first time since March will no doubt galvanise a depleted Liverpool side, who are in search of their 65th unbeaten game at home.
There is plenty for the returning fans to sing about, despite Liverpool being plagued by injuries to almost everybody at somepoint in the squad, the Reds still sit second in league, level on points with Tottenham Hotspur, who have had the easier 10 opening games than Liverpool. To still be in reach of the summit, with all of the injuries Liverpool have suffered is a testament to the squad Jurgen Klopp has built in his tenure. Imagine this side when even half of our squad is back and fit, let alone the likes of long term absentees Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez returning to the fray.
Unbelievably, this week saw another two players in James Milner and Alisson Becker pick up injuries, but the midweek performance against a decent Ajax team saw very impressive displays from stand-ins Caoimhin Kelleher and the young Welshman Neco Williams. The kids are alright, as the song famously sang by British rock band The Who goes, and the young British lads certainly proved that theory correct with Curtis Jones notching the winner. (Side note, I know Ireland isn’t in Britain…)
An interesting side story to this fixture will be the inclusion of former-Wolves player, Diogo Jota, who has discovered the form of his life since moving to Merseyside. Signed from the West Midlands club in the summer, the Portuguese star has scored 9 times in 15 appearances for the Reds; even the most optimistic of fans would not have seen this wonderful start coming from the 24-year-old. Given that Liverpool have the most potent attacking force in the world with Salah, Mane and Firmino usually operating within the front three, Jota himself may not have realised just how remarkable the start of his Liverpool career would have been, or how much game time he would have been afforded. Jota will no doubt be hungry to devour his former team and add more goals to his already scintillating start.
As I say every week, predicting the Liverpool line up is about as impossible as Manchester United winning the league this year, made even more impossible by the amount of injury and illness Liverpool have had to overcome. However, at a guess, I would say the young Irishman, Caoimhin Kelleher starts in goal to (hopefully) build upon his inspiring previous performance against Ajax. After seeing the 22-year-old pick the ball out of his own net 7 times in the week against Man City U23s, fans were no doubt on edge as to see what would happen in between the sticks. Kelleher was assured, confident and inspirational and won the hearts of the Merseyside faithful by the time the 90 minutes were up; keeping a clean sheet would have only added to his confidence that he is indeed the man to deputise for the injured Alisson. Alisson should be back soon, but with a dead rubber game in the champions League next after Wolves, expect to see Kelleher don the Liverpool jersey for the next couple of games at least.
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Trent Alexander-Arnold is very close to a return, whether that will be against Wolves is yet to be seen, but Klopp could opt to rest him for this game (if not fully fit) and the game in midweek against Danish side Midtjylland, with Neco Williams finding some form at RB. On the subject of Neco Williams, for a 19 year-old to be thrust into a series of high stakes games, I think he has done well enough for fans to give him the respect and assurance he needs, especially when the task of replacing a generational talent such as TAA is so daunting, whoever it would be to replace him. Klopp offered an update on TAA saying ‘there’s a chance he is in the squad.’ Fabinho, Joel Matip, Rhys Williams, Nat Phillips, Andy Robertson (who took a knock midweek) and Kostas Tsimikas are all available for selection. James Milner limped off last weekend with a hamstring injury (‘congratulations,’ Des Kelly) so it appears the versatile engine will be out for a period of time.
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Thiago and Oxlade-Chamberlain are still not available for selection, with reporters in the week suggesting Thiago won’t play again in this calendar year. Klopp did say on Ox that he ‘looks promising, is on ball work, but we’ll develop that in days and weeks.’ Naby Keita is closer to a return and it is questionable to whether he will feature in the squad this week with Klopp saying that he is unsure if ‘he can play, start and play 90 minutes, I don’t know.’ Therefore only Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and Curtis Jones are the only fully fit midfielders Klopp can select from (don’t ask about Shaq) but whether the plays those three or opts to play the four attackers (Jota, Mane, Salah, Firmino) and the double-pivot, we will have to wait and see.
In attack sees Liverpool at their peak in terms of fitness, with the fab four all available and raring to go. The anger Mo Salah showed at the weekend by being replaced is a joy to see, I have no problem with players wanted to remain on the pitch for as long as possible for the club, and hopefully that anger is vented against Wolves on Sunday. Mane has gone without a goal for Liverpool for three games now, a run he will be seeking to end. Firmino is discovering his form again, a man of his talents won’t suffer a spell of average displays for long. Taki Minamino has had more minutes as of late, he could play this time out but more likely to play in the CL game. But, all eyes on Diogo Jota, against his former club. We football fans have seen it all before when it comes to goaks against former clubs, and Jota will be boosted even further by being on the end of the Anfield crowd for the first time in his Liverpool career; whilst there may only be 2,000 spectators, at Anfield, that feels like 20,000.
A word on Wolves, who are missing Raul Jiminez after the win against Arsenal at the weekend. Jiminez unfortunately fractured his skull in a sickening collision with David Luiz, and we wish the striker a speedy and successful recovery. Adam Traore has been used in a slightly different role this year, often not playing as high up the pitch and coming off the bench more often than perhaps people expected the pacey enigma to be sitting on. With Jiminez’s injury, he could be set for a spell on the Anfield pitch and playing higher up: he is a threat that Liverpool will have to keep an eye on. As is the little livewire Daniel Podence, who is silky, smooth and electrifying whilst on the ball, hitting the back of the net twice this year, he is the cog in the machine that make Wolves tick. Connor Coady, boyhood Liverpool fan and former academy player could play against The Reds in a back three, skippering his side at Anfield; he will definitely feel he has a point to prove to his former employers. Romain Saiss is back for Wolves after being out since October.
The fans are back, Liverpool are within touching distance of returning to top of the league, players are becoming available again, Christmas is coming early if Liverpool can sit on top of the tree come Sunday. Nuno Espirito Santos’ Wolves will prove a tricky obstacle for Liverpool, they are well organised and have dangers in attack, but a Liverpool team on form should pick up the three points at Anfield, with the You’ll Never walk Alone never sounding as sweet.
Up the Reds. YNWA.