By Carl Markham, PA
Two pieces of goalscoring brilliance were unable to paper over the cracks of holders Liverpool’s unconvincing start to their FA Cup defence in a 2-2 draw against an under-strength Wolves side.
Darwin Nunez proved that he is, indeed, a finisher with a brilliant cushioned volley from a sumptuous Trent Alexander-Arnold cross before Mohamed Salah went past Kenny Dalglish in the club’s all-time list with his 173rd goal in a red shirt.
But defensively Liverpool, beaten on Monday after a chaotic display against Brentford, were disorganised and after Alisson Becker’s mistake had gifted Goncalo Guedes the opener, second-half substitute Hwang Hee-Chan secured a replay four minutes after coming on.
Even an encouraging debut from £38million signing Cody Gakpo could not hide the failings of a performance which lurched from the bad to the brilliant and back to poor again.
Jurgen Klopp fielded his strongest available side against a Wolves team, who have a Carabao Cup quarter-final on Wednesday followed by a relegation six-pointer against West Ham, registering nine changes with 19-year-old right-back Dexter Lembikisa making his first start.
Yet after seeing off a deliberately controlled start from their hosts – Salah sending a free-kick over and Gakpo having an early shot – Julen Lopetegui’s side looked the better team with Adama Traore’s pacey bursts forward causing problems.
Liverpool have conceded the first goal in more than half of their matches this season but on this occasion they absolutely shot themselves in the foot.
Thiago Alcantara was dispossessed trying to dribble out of defence and his recovery tackle on Raul Jimenez put the Mexico striker on the floor which seemingly left everyone confused.
The game appeared to freeze awaiting a decision from referee Andy Madley and no-one more so than Alisson, who was looking at Alexander-Arnold but inexplicably passed straight to Guedes who could not miss an open goal.
— Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) January 7, 2023
Alisson did much better with a Guedes strike from 25 yards, palming to safety, before on the stroke of half-time Liverpool scored a brilliant equaliser their play had barely deserved.
Nathan Collins’ cross-field ball to no-one was picked up by Alexander-Arnold who advanced and crossed for Uruguay international Nunez to score his first goal since returning from the World Cup.
The striker has been criticised for missing a host of chances in that time but despite all his apparent troubles he is still averaging almost a goal every other game with 10 in 23.
For Alexander-Arnold it was his 62nd assist on his 250th appearance.
Liverpool’s second piece of genius came from the boot of Salah seven minutes after the break when Gakpo’s cross was headed up into the air by Toti.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) January 7, 2023
The Egypt international, who had initially been in an offside position, benefited for the touch and stunned the falling ball with one touch and tucked it past Matija Sarkic with his next.
But still Liverpool were unable to exert any control and after Alisson saved one-on-one from Rayan Ait-Nouri, substitute Hwang, in the 67th minute, slid in to force the ball through the goalkeeper’s legs.
Toti was denied a winner nine minutes from time by an offside flag and while the visitors returned home boosted ahead of a big week for them Klopp was left to ponder the mysteries of yet another sub-standard performance.