Wolves vs Liverpool: Predicted lineup
Adama Traore bursts past Georginio Wijnaldum during the 2019/20 edition of this fixture, in which he delivered an inch-perfect cross during a surging attack for a perfect headed equaliser by Raul Jimenez | Photo by Andrew Kearns - CameraSport/Getty Images.

Wolverhampton Wanderers aren't doing badly at the moment. Nine points clear of the relegation zone and ten away from 7th place at the time of writing, Nuno Espirito Santo's men are comfortably sat in mid-table with ten games left to play, and without the pressure of a relegation scrap or any expectation to challenge for the European places, all they have to focus on now is finishing the Premier League season strongly.

The situation at Anfield isn't quite as positive, with Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool side having picked up only three points out of a possible 21 since the start of last month, scoring on only four occasions in those matches. The champions of 2019/20 are sliding down the table and are facing a very real possibility of finishing the season outside the top half.

Although their spirits will have been lifted by an aggregate 4-0 victory over RB Leipzig in the Champions League, the Reds are vulnerable thanks to an inconsistent attack and a consistently leaky defence. Wolves have been unable to beat them since the cold January night that kicked off the brilliant FA Cup run of 2018/19, but now they have a golden opportunity to take all three points.

The opposition

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Liverpool's struggles at the back are understandable - after an awful run of luck with injuries to key players, they have had to use a staggering 19 different centre-back pairings so far, providing little opportunity for building defensive chemistry. Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips kept a clean sheet against Leipzig, and as a result both will likely start.

Star fullbacks Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson haven't been at their best this season, but their crossing capabilities will cause problems for a Wolves defence that has struggled to deal with aerial deliveries, and they will both start as well. Goalkeeper Alisson Becker, as always in the league when fit, completes Liverpool's defensive unit.

With Jordan Henderson out injured, the Liverpool midfield will likely be made up of Georginio Wijnaldum, Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho, with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane as narrow, inverted wingers ahead of them, either side of a man well used to playing under the Molineux lights.

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After injuring his hip against FC Midtjylland in December and spending three months recovering, Diogo Jota is back. Given the recent fitness struggles of Roberto Firmino, who has been dealing with a knee issue, Jota is almost certain to start up front.

A hero to the Wolves faithful for the 33 goals scored in 111 appearances through the three wildly successful seasons he spent in old gold, Jota would have been greeted with a very warm welcome had fans been allowed into the stadium for the fixture.

However, the length of time he spent at the club will be a concern for the Wolves back three, whose individual strengths and weaknesses he will no doubt know very well and exploit ruthlessly.

If Wolves attempt to play a high defensive line or spread the back three wide, Jota will look to play in the gap to the right of Conor Coady and cut in behind the defence, opening up plenty of one-on-one situations against Rui Patricio.

Tactics and formation

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For now, at least, the back three/back five vs back four debate is settled for Wolves, and Nuno looks like he will spend the rest of this season relying on his trusted three centre-back system before a pre-season likely to be spent getting properly comfortable in a 4-2-3-1 ahead of 2021/22.

Patricio's goal will be protected by Coady, who will most likely be flanked by Romain Saiss and Leander Dendoncker. With Max Kilman not having had any minutes in recent weeks and Willy Boly not having played yet since his return from injury, Nuno will not want to risk a lack of sharpness or fitness in either of them opening up opportunities for Liverpool's rapid front three and fullbacks. His regular defenders will once again be trusted.

With Dendoncker in defence, and inexperience against elite teams counting against Vitinha, Morgan Gibbs-White and Owen Otasowie, the midfield pairing will almost certainly be made up of Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho, with first-choice wingbacks Nelson Semedo and Jonny Castro Otto likely to go either side of them.

However, as the game progresses and Alexander-Arnold and Robertson tire, substitute appearances for Ki-Jana Hoever and Rayan Ait-Nouri will be on the cards, with the young Dutchman given the opportunity to go up against the club whose academy he came through. Fernando Marcal is still recovering from surgery on a groin injury.

As the Liverpool defence is more likely to be exposed by the fullbacks tiring towards the end of the game and as their centre-backs are inexperienced anyway, Wolves' second-half speciality and squad depth for wide attackers could be what makes the difference.

With Daniel Podence also still out thanks to a groin problem, Wolves' first-choice wingers are invariably Pedro Neto and Adama Traore, who in recent weeks have played inverted and essentially as wide strikers, in much the same way that Liverpool's wingers play.

The question of whether to start Willian Jose or Fabio Silva has been one of the main dilemmas facing Nuno recently. Although the Brazilian is still yet to score his debut goal for his new club, Nuno has so far maintained his faith in him, and has preferred to bring on the more mobile and energetic Silva to see out the final minutes of matches against tired defensive legs. The same strategy will likely be employed against Liverpool.

Predicted line-ups

Wolves: 3-4-3: Patricio; Dendoncker, Coady, Saiss; Semedo, Neves, Moutinho, Jonny; Neto, Jose, Traore.

Liverpool: 4-3-3: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Phillips, Kabak, Robertson; Thiago, Fabinho, Wijnaldum; Salah, Jota, Mane.

Prediction

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Wolves won't make this easy for Liverpool. Defending hard and relying on unpredictable counterattacks through the first half before switching to a more direct attacking style after the interval is likely to be the gameplan for Nuno's side, and given the pace and quality of Liverpool's front three, there is every chance that the men in gold may have to come from being a couple of goals behind.

However, constant pressure on the Liverpool defence from substitute wingbacks given licence to push high plus the added attacking threat of Silva should tip the scales in Wolves' favour. Either team could win this and there will almost certainly be goals. 2-2 might be a fair scoreline.

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