MX23RW : Friday, January 18 10:39:11

Preview: Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Liverpool - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Friday night's Premier League clash between Wolverhampton Wanderers and unbeaten league leaders Liverpool, including team news and predictions.

Two in-form teams will go head to head at Molineux on Friday night as Wolverhampton Wanderers host unbeaten league leaders Liverpool in their final match before Christmas.

A recent resurgence has taken Wolves up to seventh in the Premier League table, whereas Liverpool could temporarily move four points clear at the top with a victory.


Wolves

Wolverhampton Wanderers head coach Nuno Espirito Santo celebrates his side's latest victory on October 6, 2018© Reuters

Only four newly-promoted sides have ever enjoyed a better start to a Premier League season than Wolves, who approach the halfway point of the campaign sitting pretty in seventh place.

Victory on Friday night would see them leapfrog Manchester United into sixth - at least until the Jose Mourinho-less Red Devils face Cardiff City on Saturday - and the prospect of Europe will be very much on their minds.

Indeed, Wolves are closer to the Champions League places than they are to the relegation zone, so they will be looking up the table rather than down it heading into the New Year.

While Nuno Espirito Santo's side have never been in trouble this season, things did not look quite as rosy at the beginning of December when a run of just one point from six games - including back-to-back defeats to relegation-threatened duo Huddersfield Town and Cardiff - saw them slide down the table.

However, a shock 2-1 victory over Chelsea has sparked a three-match winning streak and Wolves are now on the verge of winning four top-flight matches in a row for the first time since January 1972.

Last season's second-tier champions have also scored twice in each of those victories, which hints at an increased attacking threat, although they remain the lowest scorers outside the bottom seven this term - not ideal against the stingiest defence in the division.

One factor which will encourage Wolves ahead of this match in particular is their positive record against the top six so far this season; Nuno's side have lost just one of their previous five such matches in 2018-19, beating Chelsea and holding Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal to draws.

Tottenham Hotspur - who Wolves will face again in their final match of 2018 - are the only top-six side to beat them since promotion, and even then Wolves almost recovered from three goals down in an eventual 3-2 defeat.

It was one of three home defeats Wolves have suffered in the Premier League this season - all of which came in succession - but they have since returned to winning ways with victories over Chelsea and Bournemouth at Molineux, and another on Friday night would make it three in a row for the first time in more than a year.

It is 38 years since Wolves achieved that in the top flight, but this current crop are a team capable of stringing such runs together and performing particularly well against the league's best teams.

Recent Premier League form: DLLWWW


Liverpool

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp on December 5, 2018© Reuters

Each of the last four teams to sit atop the table on Christmas Day have gone on to win the title, and that is a status Liverpool can secure with victory in this match.

The Reds will be wary that they were the last team to fail to do so during their near-miss campaign of 2013-14, but Jurgen Klopp's current crop look far more suited to turning a Christmas number one into a long stay at the top of the charts.

While Liverpool's last title challenge was inspired by the attacking brilliance of Luis Suarez, it was the defence that ultimately let them down in the race. This season, Liverpool have posted the joint best-ever defensive stats at this stage of an English top-flight campaign, conceding just seven times in their 17 outings.

Klopp's side remain unbeaten in the Premier League this season too, and while Dejan Lovren's prediction that this team are capable of joining an exclusive club of Invincibles is perhaps premature at this stage, it is certainly shaping up to be a special campaign for the Merseysiders.

Liverpool are also coming into this match off the back of their best week of the season too, with a nail-biting victory over Napoli sending them into the knockout stages of the Champions League last Tuesday before a dominant display to beat bitter rivals Manchester United 3-1 at Anfield on Sunday - a result which ultimately spelled the end of Mourinho's Old Trafford reign.

It also saw Liverpool extend their club-record unbeaten run to 18 Premier League games, having last enjoyed a longer spell without defeat in November 1990, when they were 23 matches without a loss.

The last six of those matches have all ended up in victory for Liverpool, and they appear to be rediscovering their attacking swagger whilst maintaining their defensive solidity; the Reds have scored three or more goals in four of their last five Premier League games, having done so just three times in their opening 12.

Klopp will know the importance of maintaining that run both on Friday night and against Newcastle United on Boxing Day, with a mouth-watering double-header awaiting them either side of the New Year as Liverpool see out 2018 at home to Arsenal and then welcome 2019 away to title rivals Manchester City.

There is a lot of football to be played before Liverpool's trip to the Etihad, but victory at Molineux would temporarily take them four points clear of City at the top of the table - at least until City host Crystal Palace on Saturday.

Liverpool have actually picked up more points away from home than they have done at Anfield in the league this season, and another win on Friday night would give them four in a row on the road for the first time in more than a year.

Sunday's win over United also means that Klopp has beaten all 26 teams that he has faced as a manager in the Premier League; Wolves will be number 27 and looking to avoid the same fate that has befallen all before them.

Recent Premier League form: WWWWWW
Recent form (all competitions): LWWWWW


Team News

Xherdan Shaqiri gets his second and the home side's third during the Premier League game between Liverpool and Manchester United on December 16, 2018© Reuters

Xherdan Shaqiri will be hoping that his match-winning two-goal cameo off the bench against United is enough to earn him a starting role, although that would also likely prompt another switch of formation.

Klopp is spoilt for choice in the middle of the park with Fabinho, Georginio Wijnaldum, Naby Keita, Jordan Henderson and James Milner all competing for places, although the latter could drop back into defence to help out with a growing injury list.

Milner is a minor doubt with a hamstring injury, but he is expected to return and could be deployed as a makeshift right-back once again, despite Nathaniel Clyne impressing on his first appearance of the season against United.

Joe Gomez and Joel Matip are both sidelined until the New Year, alongside long-term absentee Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, while this match is also expected to come too soon for Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Wolves, meanwhile, have almost a fully-fit squad to choose from, with Diogo Jota the only absentee due to a hamstring strain.

Nuno will be forced into at least one change, then, while Ivan Cavaleiro is also pushing for a start after coming off the bench to score against Bournemouth last time out.

Wolves possible starting lineup:
Patricio; Bennett, Coady, Boly; Doherty, Moutinho, Neves, Jonny; Costa, Jimenez, Cavaleiro

Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Milner, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum; Shaqiri, Firmino, Mane; Salah


Head To Head

This will be the first league meeting between these two sides since January 2012, when Liverpool ran out 3-0 winners at Molineux courtesy of goals from Andy Carroll, Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt.

Wolves have only ever won one of their eight previous Premier League meetings - a 1-0 triumph at Anfield in December 2010 - while Liverpool are unbeaten in each of their last five visits to Molineux and have kept a clean sheet in each of the last three.

However, Wolves did beat Liverpool in their most recent contest - an FA Cup clash at Anfield in January 2017 - and could win consecutive matches against the Reds for the first time since November 1980.


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We say: Wolves 1-2 Liverpool

Both teams are in fine form heading into this match and Wolves usually up their game for the big contests, but Liverpool look so strong at the moment that it is hard to back against them. It will be one of their tougher away trips this season, but we're backing Klopp's side to continue their winning streak.


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Who will win Friday's Premier League clash between Wolves and Liverpool?

Wolves
Draw
Liverpool
Wolves
17.3%
Draw
7.2%
Liverpool
75.5%
Xherdan Shaqiri channels David Brent after putting Liverpool back ahead during the Premier League game between Liverpool and Manchester United on December 16, 2018
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How Liverpool could line up against Wolves
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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Liverpool22183150104057
2Manchester CityMan City22172359174253
3Tottenham HotspurSpurs22160646222448
4Chelsea22145340172347
5Arsenal22125546321441
6Manchester UnitedMan Utd22125544321241
7Watford229583232032
8Leicester CityLeicester229492625131
9West Ham UnitedWest Ham229493032-231
10Everton228683331230
11Wolverhampton WanderersWolves228592328-529
12Bournemouth2283113142-1127
13Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton2275102430-626
14Crystal Palace2264122028-822
15Burnley2263132343-2021
16Southampton2247112339-1619
17Cardiff CityCardiff2254131941-2219
18Newcastle UnitedNewcastle2246121631-1518
19Fulham2235142049-2914
20Huddersfield TownHuddersfield2225151337-2411

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