Liverpool finish the year with a 13-point lead at the top of the Premier League table following victory over Wolves amidst more Video Assistant Referee controversy at Anfield.
Sadio Mane scored the winner in the first half, slotting it past keeper Rui Patricio after it bounced off Adam Lallana’s shoulder in the box.
There was a lengthy VAR review for handball from Lallana before referee Anthony Taylor eventually confirmed the goal.
Wolves then had a goal disallowed by VAR for a marginal offside by Jonny after Pedro Neto had drilled his shot into the bottom left corner on the stroke of half-time.
Liverpool had chances to extend their lead – Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino coming close either side of the break, but Wolves were also bright.
Diogo Jota had two big chances in the second half – the first a shot from a tight angle in the box which flew wide of the right post, the second a festive gift from a Virgil van Dijk mistake which he hit straight at Liverpool keeper Alisson.
Liverpool finish the year as resounding favourites to win their first league title in 30 years, while Wolves end 2019 in good form despite defeat at Anfield.
More VAR controversy…
There is not a weekend that goes by in the Premier League in which VAR controversy is not at the heart of it – and both decisions were marginal at Anfield.
Wolves fans were clearly frustrated, greeting referee Anthony Taylor with a roar of boos on his re-entry to the pitch following the half-time break, and they sang of their disapproval of the VAR system as frustrations continued in the second half.
Liverpool’s opening goal appeared to strike the top of Lallana’s shoulder, near his collar bone rather than his arm, while the Wolves players felt Virgil van Dijk controlled the ball with his hand before playing the long pass to Lallana.
Wolves also suffered a blow when Neto’s goal was disallowed because Spanish wing-back Jonny had a toe offside.
On a weekend where Norwich striker Teemu Pukki and Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha were also victims of close offside calls, the talk – once again – will be of the use of VAR and not how Liverpool managed to grind out yet another win in the league.
Wolves skipper Conor Coady said his team felt “massively” hard done by and believes the current VAR system is “not working”.
“In the second half we controlled the game and nullified Liverpool to hardly anything. It is disappointing that we are stood here talking about VAR rather than the game and the way Wolves played,” former Liverpool trainee Coady said.
The difference a decade makes
It seems like it was only yesterday when Liverpool appointed Roy Hodgson as manager in 2010.
Hodgson would go on to last just six months, having made eight signings – Milan Jovanovic, Joe Cole and Paul Konchesky among them – who all failed to impress at Liverpool.
The Reds went on to finish sixth at the end of the season – 22 points behind champions Manchester United. They also lost to League Two side Northampton Town in the League Cup and did npt make it past the last 16 of the Europa League.
Fast forward 10 years and Liverpool are sporting the Fifa Champions badge on their shirts for one game in the Premier League after winning the Club World Cup in Qatar earlier this month.
Fans welcomed their players onto the pitch against Wolves with a rendition of “We are the champions… of the world”.
As reigning European champions, they already have the Premier League trophy well within their sights and it would take an almighty collapse for Liverpool to lose their position at the top of the table in the second half of the season.
Positives for Wolves despite the manner of defeat
Wolves drop to eighth place following the defeat at Anfield but they will be very happy at the halfway mark.
A comeback victory over Manchester City and the 4-0 thrashing over Besiktas in the Europa League were big highlights in December but they gave the league leaders a run for their money on Sunday despite playing in their second fixture in 43 hours.
Jota had chances to equalise in the second half as Wolves piled the pressure on and he was not alone.
Raul Jimenez and Adama Traore, both introduced as second-half substitutes, failed to hit the target from good positions, while Ruben Vinagre thumped a strike over from close range in stoppage time.
The positivity they showed throughout the game will have pleased boss Nuno Espirito Santo, who continues to work wonders with a small, but talented squad.
Wolves’ ultimate goal should be to secure European football for another season and they are on course to achieve that in the New Year.
Man of the match – Diogo Jota (Wolves)
More to follow.