Five months after the coronation the Kop finally reverberated to the sound of “champions”. Liverpool reminded their fans how and why with an emphatic destruction of a Wolves team badly missing Raúl Jiménez at one end of the pitch and labouring at the other.
Conor Coady, the boyhood Liverpool fan, endured a night to forget back at his old club as Mohamed Salah punished his slip with the opening goal and VAR overturned a penalty he won for the visitors with a dreadful dive. Georginio Wijnaldum, with a stunning second, Joël Matip and Sadio Mané – via a final touch from Nélson Semedo – compounded Nuno Espírito Santo’s problems as the Premier League champions served up a treat for the first 2,000 people allowed back inside Anfield since March. The stadium was less than 4% occupied but 2,000 people can make an impressive noise in an arena that has been uncomfortably silent for too long.
Jürgen Klopp beamed at the Kop when he strolled out before kick-off, then dusted off his fist-pump victory celebration afterwards. The pre-match chant of “Bring on the champions” spoke of pride and also a longing for the arduous wait to finally end.
Wolves players issued their own message during the warm-up, wearing tops that proclaimed: “Stay strong Raúl – the pack is with you.” Jiménez has left hospital following his sickening injury at Arsenal last Sunday.
Wolves’ former striker Diogo Jota was on the bench, the only change to the team that started Tuesday’s Champions League win over Ajax, as Roberto Firmino returned to the starting lineup. The injured Virgil van Dijk sat nearby. Trent Alexander-Arnold was available after a month on the sidelines but selected among the substitutes. His deputy, Neco Williams, had to tread carefully after collecting an early booking for a pull on Pedro Neto.
Liverpool were sharp and quick to exploit any lapse in the visiting ranks. Adama Traoré was equally dangerous on the right of the Wolves attack and both defences were regularly stretched in an entertaining first half. Mané headed the first opening of the game over Rui Patrício’s crossbar after a neat exchange with Andy Robertson presented him with an awkward chance in front of goal.
Caoimhin Kelleher, handed his Premier League debut for Liverpool after an excellent display against Ajax, produced a fine save to deny Daniel Podence when Jiménez’s replacement attempted to chip the young goalkeeper from Traoré’s lay-off.
Traoré created another opening when he skipped away from Fabinho but good covering by Williams prevented Neto connecting with his cross to the far post.
The game was finely balanced when Coady’s return to his boyhood club began its descent into a personal ordeal. The England international appeared to have a routine situation under control when Jordan Henderson guided a long ball into the heart of the Wolves defence. His attempted chest towards Willy Boly lacked power and accuracy, however, and Salah pounced to drive low beyond Patrício. Salah’s 11th goal of the campaign may have been gift-wrapped but was also reward for his predatory instinct.
Coady’s calamitous evening was under way. Wolves were awarded a penalty two minutes before the interval when the defender went down as he challenged for a loose ball with Mané. The Senegal international made a risky attempt to clear Curtis Jones’s header with an overhead kick and the referee, Craig Pawson, immediately pointed to the spot when it appeared to connect with Coady’s midriff.
But there was no contact. Mané withdrew his foot before Coady came into his sphere and, having been advised to study the pitchside monitor, Pawson rightly overturned his penalty decision. He should have booked the Wolves captain for his attempted deception, however. The Kop made its feelings clear with chants of “cheat, cheat”.
Wolves’ entire display deteriorated from that point. Mané served notice of a dominant second-half performance by the champions with two chances from fine passages of play. For the second opening, side-footed wide by Mané, Salah found Robertson with an inch-perfect cross and the full-back teed up the striker with a first time touch through the legs of Semedo.
Liverpool were just getting warmed up. Moments after Coady failed to capitalise on Traoré’s cross Henderson launched a Liverpool counterattack with a first time ball to Wijnaldum. As the midfielder attacked and surveyed his options the Wolves defence backed off. Wijnaldum used Coady as a marker and curled an unstoppable finish around the defender and into the top corner from 20 yards.
Liverpool’s third arrived from a short corner and another wonderful delivery from Salah. His cross pierced the Wolves defence for Joël Matip to head beyond Patrício from close range.
Alexander-Arnold had only been back in the fray for 10 minutes when he provided his latest assist for the fourth. Receiving Jones’s pass in space on the right, the full-back drilled a low cross into the visitors’ area where Mané’s scuffed shot struck Semedo and trickled over the line.