As I sit here in front of my computer, asking myself what the hell I just witnessed, Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder must be scratching his head and asking himself the same thing. The hosts gave it their all, and Liverpool were far from perfect on the afternoon.
And yet the Reds found a way to get out with all three points. It was a result that was both deserved (xG 2.4-1.2 in Liverpool’s favor), and not (see: Dean Anderson’s best Robert Green impression). Anyway, here are some talking points after the match:
Winners and Losers
Clean Sheets: Liverpool were not just the best defensive unit in England last year, but arguably in Europe. Alisson’s injury in the first week could have majorly disrupted Liverpool’s defensive stability—and therefore results—and yet here we are, level with Leicester City for fewest goals conceded on 5 (and having played one match more). It was only the second clean sheet of the season so far, but an absolutely vital one. Liverpool’s one goal, regardless of how shoddy, was enough to earn all three points today.
Although Jurgen Klopp will not be pleased with how much time Sheffield United were getting on the ball in and around the box, Adrian and Virgil van Dijk did just enough to hold the hosts at bay. Liverpool will no doubt welcome Alisson back with open arms, but his understudy has been better than we could have possibly have hoped for.
Winning Streaks: 16—SIXTEEN!—matches in the league. This is one of the best Liverpool sides ever. Enjoy them for every moment you can. It won’t last forever.
Liverpool are back within the safe confines of Anfield next week, but welcome a very difficult opponent in Leicester City. It represents an opportunity for former boss Brendan Rodgers to exact some revenge on his former club, ending their winning, unbeaten, and unbeaten at home streaks in one, fell, swoop. If Liverpool miss chances like they did today, Rodgers & Co. might just do that.
Time Wasting: The sample size is small, but we’ve seen quite a few yellows dished out for time wasting recently. Last week it was Trent Alexander-Arnold. This week it was Adrian and Sheffield United’s Jack O’Connell. If this is a conscious crack-down by the FA on time wasting, I’m all for it. Though, I’d be surprised if it were—eh-hem—evenly applied to all teams.
Fine Margins: When Gini Wijnaldum’s ball rolled—and wow did it take forever to roll—across the line with 20 minutes remaining, it felt like a winner. Indeed, it was.
Sheffield United were lucky not to concede on either of Sadio Mane’s big chances. And they were lucky again not to give away a penalty (more on that in a moment). But, you could say they were unlucky not to create more problems with any one of their numerous half-chances throughout the match.
That’s how football is, sometimes. A single goal, regardless of how much it is “deserved” is often the difference between winning, drawing, and losing. Of course, having better players at every position on the pitch helps tip the balance, as was the case today. Last year, we saw the league decided by literally 11 mm. This year, we’ll continue to need to be on the right side of the finest margins in order to finally win the league.
“Clear and Obvious”: Another week, another penalty decision going against Liverpool. In the old days, Mane’s shout would have been considered “soft” but several angles showed the defender fouling the Senegalese attacker. VAR is in a tough spot, needing not to slow down the game too much, but to get the biggest decisions right. But instead of getting penalty decisions right, we’re getting out and out protection from the referee union. So it goes.
What Happens Next
A busy matchweek is over, and another begins. On Wednesday, Liverpool try to get their Champions League campaign back on track, hosting RB Salzburg. And then, they turn around to host the Foxes, three days later.
After falling to Napoli in the first Group Stage match, Liverpool will need to get back to their winning ways, lest they want to be faced with a difficult path to qualification. Salzburg are flying high, having scored an impressive 6 goals against Genk in their opening match, and sit in first in the Austrian league, scoring an equally impressive 36 goals in their opening 9 fixtures.
Things won’t get any easier in the league. Leicester City had played their way into the Top 4 (when this weekend’s action started), and have been stingy in defense, as I mentioned above.