If Jurgen Klopp had his way, third-round replays in the FA Cup would be scrapped. Instead, Liverpool face a second game with Wolverhampton Wanderers after failing to beat the second-string side of a relegation-threatened club.

Even that may rank as a relief. Toti had what seemed a winner disallowed for offside but if a draw still showed the improvement Julen Lopetegui has brought at Molineux, this amounted to an unconvincing start to Liverpool’s defence of their crown.

For Cody Gakpo, an introduction to life at Anfield was a snapshot of a strange season. The £37m winger marked his debut with a part in Mohamed Salah’s 17th goal of the campaign and 173rd for Liverpool. It took him past Kenny Dalglish in their all-time scoring charts but his efforts this season have been a damage-limitation exercise.

And this was another fraught day for Liverpool, who lacked control and conviction. For Gakpo, it was an early illustration that they tend to make sloppy starts and invariably go behind, and they duly trailed for the 14th time in 27 matches this season.

Their defending, previously so dependable, feels flawed. They can cause their own problems and Wolves’ opener was presented to them by an often impeccable goalkeeper: Alisson has been arguably Liverpool’s player of the season but the malaise has even affected him.

He had won Liverpool the FA Cup in May with his penalty save from Mason Mount. He endangered their participation in it with an uncharacteristic error. Just Goncalo Guedes’s second goal for Wolves came gift-wrapped. Granted plenty of time on the ball, Alisson telegraphed a pass to Trent Alexander-Arnold, instead only picked out the Portuguese forward and he slotted the ball into the empty net.

Guedes’s presence on the pitch was an indication he has been a failed signing: as Lopetegui made nine changes, the £27m man was one of those brought in, not taken out. But for a better piece of goalkeeping from Alisson, parrying a 25-yard shot, he would have had a brace in swift succession.

For Liverpool, it was an addition to a list of wretched first halves this season. It was pockmarked by misplaced passes and Thiago Alcantara, often their best technician, was a particular culprit. Yet they went in level at the break courtesy of a magnificent pass: as Alexander-Arnold brought up 250 appearances for Liverpool, even he can have played few finer.

Their equaliser came from two cross-field balls, the first hideously misdirected by Wolves’ Nathan Collins, the second majestic by Alexander-Arnold, a 40-yard arrow to Darwin Nunez.

The volleyed – and shinned – finish rolled past Matija Sarkic. After a litany of misses since the World Cup, Nunez scored with a mishit. For Alexander-Arnold it was a first assist of the season with his feared right foot, to add to one with his left.

Darwin Nunez, right, celebrates scoring Liverpool’s first goal

(Reuters)

Gakpo’s bow had begun promisingly, with a lovely touch to set up a fourth-minute shot Sarkic saved. It was in keeping with a mistake-riddled game, however, that his part in Salah’s strike involved a defender. Had he found the offside Egyptian directly with his cross, the goal would have been disallowed. Instead, Toti made a mess of an attempted headed clearance. Salah met it with a deft touch, spinning to shoot in.

And that, in the past, would have been that. Yet this Liverpool side struggle to hold on to leads or close games out and, minus the injured Virgil van Dijk, they lacked authority at the back. Lopetegui turned to his bench and arguably strengthened his side.

A couple of minutes after the Spaniard made a triple substitution, two of his replacements combined for a second goal. In a one-two, Hwang Hee-Chan found Matheus Cunha and met the January signing’s low cross with a shot that struck Ibrahima Konate, rebounded on to the South Korean and in. Cunha continued to exert an impact in the second game of his loan spell and it was his shot Toti turned in with a backheel flick, only for his shirtless celebration to be marred when he belatedly realised the flag was up.

With Matheus Nunes, a player Liverpool admire, also impressing, Wolves arguably looked the likelier winners. They have already knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup twice in Klopp’s reign. They may yet complete a hat-trick.

And as Liverpool had named their strongest available side and Wolves had prioritised a Carabao Cup tie against Nottingham Forest with their selection, a haphazard draw was another indication of how standards have fallen this season. And so they head for the kind of game Klopp wants struck from the fixture list, knowing they could be out already.



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