Rúben Neves had just put Wolves three up and their supporters were entitled to crow as they wished. The away dugout was as good a target as any: Jürgen Klopp was hardly going to answer back and “you’re getting sacked in the morning”, a taunt as old as time but stinging nonetheless, chorused down in his direction.
Their prediction will not come true but that will be the only positive Klopp can muster. This is now a crisis and there will be no easy way out for Liverpool, who simply let this game happen to them and were two goals behind before they discovered even the ghost of any fluency. Thudding defeats at Brentford, Brighton and Molineux might all be excused in isolation but when they occur in the space of five weeks, with nine goals conceded and one scored, the pattern is inescapable.
The die was cast when Craig Dawson, making his debut, doubled the home side’s lead well before a quarter of an hour had been played. Wolves had been irresistible over that period, besting their opponents in every possible department, and could have scored more. Chaotic defending, a distinct hallmark of Liverpool’s recent work, helped accentuate their dominance and by the time a measure of order had been restored there was too much for Klopp’s players to do.
“We caused the misery within the first 12 minutes,” Klopp said. “It cannot happen but it did. It’s really tough to swallow. Today was the pinnacle of our problems: in a game like this it’s totally not allowed. You can criticise us, judge us as much as you like, those 12 minutes were the worst in a while.”
They included waves of Wolves attacks and an appreciable hunger from Julen Lopetegui’s team to win back possession without a moment’s delay. Mario Lemina, perhaps the best player on the pitch, led the way but two interceptions from the left forward Matheus Nunes after tracking back set an admirable tone. There had been warning signs even before the fifth-minute opener, Alisson Becker beating away Matheus Cunha’s drive, and it was little surprise to see the lock picked so early.
Pablo Sarabia, making his first start since signing from Paris Saint-Germain, was the architect with a clipped pass down the inside-right channel for Hwang Hee-chan. It crossed Joël Matip’s mind to engage the Korean but he opted to hold his centre-back position and counted a cruel cost; Hwang attempted to drive the ball across but, pinging off Matip at a zany angle, it flew onto the far post and rolled across the line.
At this point Liverpool had nothing to offer. They were second to everything and an addition to the scoreline felt inevitable. Their problems began when Cunha was sharper than Andy Robertson and near the byline, could chip over a cross. The consequences were comical, Joe Gomez’s flick taking out Alisson and allowing a header for Max Kilman, whose effort was blocked by Cody Gakpo. The loose ball was smashed in by Dawson; it was emphatic from Wolves and shambolic from Liverpool.
The £3.3m Wolves paid West Ham for Dawson was a fraction of their £75m winter outlay but already looks sound business. “He is here because he’s going to improve us,” Lopetegui said, and this was a fine start.He missed another good chance before the interval, while more hesitancy from Matip demanded Alisson to save one-on-one from Nunes.
Darwin Núñez had worked José Sá after Dawson’s goal but otherwise Liverpool offered little. They emerged for the restart several gears faster and Klopp called the subsequent spell “a super away game, without scoring”. Mohamed Salah curled a fraction wide, Sá denied a rampaging Núñez and Naby Keïta’s deflected drive struck Kilman’s hand. Kilman had barely moved and Liverpool would have to work far harder for any luck.
Instead Adama Traoré, who had come on after Hwang succumbed to a hamstring injury, was released by his fellow substitute João Moutinho before centring for Neves to control on the run and finish coolly. “It’s only three points, we’ve not done anything at the moment,” cautioned a nonetheless satisfied Lopetegui. Wolves have clearly strengthened well and are forging an identity under their new manager.
On the other hand, it helps when your opponents are at their lowest ebb in recent memory. “How can I not be concerned?” said Klopp. “I can’t sit here and think ‘OK, we did well’.” He was asked, perhaps inevitably, whether he can turn this slump around. “Yeah yeah yeah, absolutely,” came the reply. His squad urgently need to summon similar self-confidence.