Don’t feed the Scousers.
Liverpool will be top of the Premier League tree this Christmas after gobbling up another three points at Molineux. The insults of the Wolverhampton Wanderers fans could do little to disrupt Jurgen Klopp’s side as they recorded a seventh straight league win to open up a four-point gap to Manchester City, who play Crystal Palace on Saturday.
It wasn’t always pretty – in driving rain, it was never likely to be – but thanks to goals in either half from Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk, and an 11th clean sheet of the campaign, the Reds got the job done again. "It was a mature performance," reasoned Klopp. He got that one right.
How fitting that it should be the game’s two outstanding players who decided it. Liverpool, in case you haven’t noticed, are developing into some team, and in Salah and Van Dijk they have two of the world’s finest.
Salah’s goalscoring run shows little sign of slowing. Here, he notched his 14th goal of the season, a clinical, almost nonchalant finish with the outside of his left foot from a Fabinho assist – that’s two in two games for the Brazilian, incidentally. He’s now the Premier League’s outright leading scorer with 11; he’s in no mood to give his Golden Boot back just yet, it seems.
For good measure, the Egyptian set up Liverpool’s second goal too, his perfectly-judged cross diverted home by Van Dijk for his first league strike for the club, midway through the second half.
That capped a flawless performance from the Dutchman, who surely has no equals right now in terms of centre-backs. You get what you pay for in football; and a year ago Liverpool paid top dollar for a very special defender.
“Watch him defend, and we watch him score,” sang the travelling Kop, who enjoyed themselves despite the weather and the prospect of the M6 on a Friday night. They know a player when they see one. Van Dijk, at £75 million, is the real deal. Liverpool have made some good signings in recent years, but few have had such a transformative effect. Seven goals conceded in 18 games this season tells its own story; they equalled the Premier League record tonight. Watch them defend and watch them score.
There are times when it almost looks too easy for the 27-year-old. Ball into the box to defend? No problem. Switch of play to be executed? Easy. Foot-race with Adama Traore, surely the quickest player in the league? Count me in. This was a display of the highest quality, from a player who has been turning them in since he walked through the door at Anfield.
With Van Dijk in this kind of form, and with Salah running riot at the other end, who fancies stopping Liverpool right now? They weren’t impeccable here, but such is the standard their players are setting for themselves, it no longer matters. Second gear is enough at the moment.
Wolves, to their credit, offered far more this week than Manchester United had last. Nuno Espirito Santo’s men forced mistakes from the Reds during an evenly-contested first-half, and kept plugging away during an increasingly one-sided second period. Ultimately, though, it was class that told, and all of it belonged to Liverpool.
Salah’s goal was a case in point, a patiently-worked move involving Fabinho and Sadio Mane ending with the former driving a cross back to the six-yard line, where the Reds’ main man was waiting to effortlessly flick the ball beyond Rui Patricio. There was even a smile from Salah as he celebrated. Seasons greetings, indeed.
Liverpool played some wonderful stuff thereafter, without finding a finish. Van Dijk stood out a mile, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho formed an impressive midfield partnership and some of Salah’s touches were just sublime.
One of them, a delicate cross into the box after a half-cleared corner on 68 minutes, brought Van Dijk’s clinching goal. The Egyptian could have had more, but for the determination of Patricio, who had a fine game for the home side. "He made a few sprints eh?" smiled Klopp, who praised the way his side "controlled" the game after the break, with Henderson and Fabinho particularly strong in that area.
As it is, two goals and three more points will do for the Reds, who entertain Newcastle on Boxing Day. Rafa Benitez will have watched this one with a wry smile, no doubt. He loves the Reds, of course, but those looking for weaknesses in the Reds’ armoury are being left disappointed every week. This train just keeps on going.
"Good game, deserved win at a difficult place," said Klopp. "All good.”
With Van Dijk and Salah, they’ll take some stopping.