PERHAPS Jurgen Klopp might be a little less loyal after this.
The Liverpool boss had been accused of sticking too rigidly to a once-mighty group of players who have stumbled into mid-table this season.
GettyLiverpool are through to the FA Cup fourth round[/caption]
ReutersHarvey Elliott celebrates scoring for Liverpool[/caption]
Here, he made eight changes and discovered there is life beyond his first-choice side – not least teenager Harvey Elliott, whose early banger settled this third-round replay in favour of the FA Cup holders.
Klopp’s men will now make a swift return to Brighton – the scene of Saturday’s 3-0 pasting – for a tricky fourth-round tie.
While Match of the Day’s live coverage of this tie was sabotaged by rogue erotic noises during the pre-match punditry, there was little too sexy about the football at a brass-monkeys Molineux.
Still, it was a first victory of 2023, at the fourth attempt, for Liverpool – and how Klopp needed it after taking such a gamble with his team selection.
While the Reds weathered some serious Wolves pressure in the second half, Elliott’s long-range effort – which caught keeper Jose Sa off his line – was enough to see them through.
Klopp is famous for his contempt of Cup replays. He didn’t even turn up the last time Liverpool were involved in one, against Shrewsbury three years ago, when he said his reserve manager and the stiffs to that Anfield rematch.
This time, he made wholesale changes from the strong side which had been lucky to earn a home draw against Wolves in the original match, when a couple of bizarre VAR calls kept the holders in the competition.
Saturday’s 3-0 hammering at Brighton, described by Klopp as the worst performance he had ever presided over, might have encouraged a few changes but this was nothing like a first-choice line-up.
Wolves had been resurgent under Julen Lopetegui, clambering out of the relegation places since the World Cup break – but the Spaniard also made seven changes and Wolves lacked cohesion for the first hour before they finally got their game together all too late.
The pre-match fireworks were welcome for once – generating some much-needed heat on a bitter night.
While Gary Lineker & Co sounded like they were getting fruity in the studio, the chief concern at Molineux, on the outskirts of Antarctica, was the avoidance of a Prince Harry-style frozen penis.
And the gremlins soon struck again when, inside a minute of kick-off, Adama Traore raced down the right flank and, just as he was about to deliver a cross, the floodlights cut out for a second or two, throwing the stadium into drakness and the match into confusion.
Soon Traore did send over a visible centre and Raul Jimenez headed wide at the near post.
But Klopp’s men seized the advantage on 13 minutes, Kostas Tsimikas feeding Thiago Alcantara who swept a pass to Elliott, still inside his own half.
The teenager advanced and, spotting Jose Sa off his line, thumped one left-footed from 25 yards beating the Wolves keeper all ends up.
Tsimkas soon shot over from an angle and Cody Gakpo narrowly cleared the bar, as Klopp’s sweeping changes were beginning to look like a worthwhile gamble.
GettyHarvey Elliott putting Liverpool in the lead[/caption]
Wolves were disjointed, struggling to play it out from the back, and Sa was suffering a shocker, missing punches and decidedly dodgy with his feet.
Fabio Carvalho found the net but was clearly offside from a Naby Keita pass.
Traore managed to get round the back of the Reds defence but after cutting inside he miscued his shot.
There was little surprise when Lopetegui made a double substitution at half-time, sending on Matheus Nunes and Nelson Semedo for youngsters Joe Hodge and Dexter Lembikisa.
When Wolves did string a decent move together, Rayan Alt-Nouri and Jimenez combining to tee up Traore, the brawny winger spooned his shot into the icy heavens.
Liverpool were subdued but largely in control, Spanish kid Stefan Bajcetic anchoring the midfield without shinpads but with plenty of class.
Still, Klopp sent for Mo Salah, along with Curtis Jones and Nat Phillips – Cody Gakpo, Carvalho and Milner making way.
Ruben Neves had pinging peachy passes from the deep all night, yet Wolves were continually wasting his efforts.
Matheus Cunha played a one-two with Jimenez and won a dangerous free-kick from a leaden-footed Phillips – Nunes stepped up and curled it narrowly over the bar.
Wolves were well on top now but when Traore found a decent centre, Jimenez header over from close range under pressure from Joe Gomez.
Cunha lashed a volley wide and headed weakly at keeper Caoimhin Keller late on, with Liverpool struggling to get out of their own half.
But after the miserable season Klopp’s men have been suffering, small mercies must be met with gratitude.
The defence of this Cup might yet offer some cheer to a miserable old campaign.
Jurgen Klopp celebrates his first win of 2023Rex