Titles are won on days like this. As the clock ticked deep into added time Liverpool looked sure to regret an inexplicable miss from Diogo Jota, whose inability to convert in the 60th minute appeared to have cost them the opportunity they were granted earlier in the day. Then Mohamed Salah escaped down the right one last time and squared for Divock Origi, who had arrived midway through the second half, to spin and fire beneath José Sá. The visitors’ bench erupted into wild celebrations: they may only top the Premier League for a few hours this evening, but this felt like a significant victory given Liverpool had been on the verge of leaving the Black Country with regrets after doing everything but score.
West Ham’s win over Chelsea meant Liverpool could profit doubly from victory here, not that they needed any kind of fillip. Jürgen Klopp cannot have had many easier decisions than the one to name an unchanged lineup from the selection that embarrassed Everton on Wednesday; Liverpool had been in full flow, scoring four goals in each of their previous three league games, and when a team is in this vein of form a manager’s touch can be mercifully light.
Yet the opening stages were a reminder Wolves are nobody’s fools. They had only scored 12 goals this season but their concession count was identical and matched by that of Liverpool. Molineux has not seen basketball-style scores but Bruno Lage’s team had offered more in attack than the figures suggest, while rarely allowing games to escape them.
A cold, clear, crackling afternoon brought the best out of this venue and added snap on the pitch even if chances were initially scarce. José Semedo did well to flick a clipped Salah cross behind before it could reach Sadio Mané; towards the half’s midway stage Jota, lightly booed by his former public whenever he threatened, saw a header hacked away by Leander Dendoncker.
Wolves had kept possession relatively well, attempting to set Adama Traoré off against Andy Robertson, but the winger wasted a good opportunity to cross after working a one-two with Semedo. Beyond that they struggled to make attacking headway and, as the half-hour approached, Liverpool began forcing them back. Two presentable opportunities arose in quick succession: first Trent Alexander-Arnold ballooned a volley from the corner of the six-yard box after an impeccable lofted pass from Thiago Alcântara, perhaps not quite reading its flight; then the right-back, chipping to the far post, found Jota stealing in. Having beaten Semedo to the ball Jota should probably have scored but, slightly off balance, nodded wide.
The home support enjoyed that one and would have far more to savour later, but were increasingly unnerved by Wolves’ inability to make headway up the pitch. Their defending was looking scratchier and another let-off came when Robertson’s first-time centre looked bound for Salah before Romain Saïss intervened brilliantly. Conor Coady, also at close quarters, required treatment in the aftermath but Wolves survived to the interval and had time to cause their first serious flutter when Alisson bundled Rayan Ait-Nouri’s cross away from Traoré.
Early in the second half, Traoré almost laid on a chance for Hwang Hee-chan after getting the better of Virgil van Dijk. But Wolves escaped again almost immediately when Salah’s volley across goal was met by Thiago, blocked by Raúl Jiménez and, after striking Thiago again, repelled by Sá. It was a pinball-like sequence and Wolves would again thank a ricochet when Dendoncker got in the way of Thiago’s 20-yard strike.
None of this could rival their extraordinary escape just before the hour. Sá got in a mess when venturing out to meet a pass sent down Wolves’ left, accidentally taking out Saïss and letting the ball run free. It meant Jota had a clear run into the penalty area and no obvious hurry to shoot. He proceeded to the edge of the six-yard box and, although Coady and Max Kilman had retreated to the line by now, the remotest precision would have opened the scoring. Instead Jota blasted straight into Coady’s midriff, to universal astonishment; a painful blow for the centre-back, but a far more grievous dent in his opponent’s ego.
Now Molineux was alive to the possibility things might go Wolves’ way. Fabinho and Robertson were booked for hacks on Traoré, who was not alone in having his tail up, but Lage was soon urging his troops to calm down lest proceedings become stretched. Liverpool tried everything as the minutes ebbed; Sá saved stupendously from Mané but Wolves thought they had survived before Origi changed everything.