Liverpool beat Sheffield United 2-1. It’s a very routine scoreline for a match that was anything but. Could it be 4-0 to Liverpool? Yes. Could’ve Sheffield United taken a point, or more? Absolutely. But they didn’t and the Champions won.
In order to talk about this match I think it’s important to talk about what happened the days and hours leading up to it. I mean this in two different ways. We have to talk about the moments following the final whistle in Amsterdam on Wednesday night. Liverpool had just won a game in which they did not score — the only goal in the game was an own goal — but they kept the opponent at zero. Immensely important given the task at hand. The best defender in the world is out for some time and the backup goalkeeper is still in the net. The whistle goes and the manager is immediately on the pitch giving his players hugs like they just won another trophy. The message couldn’t be clearer from Jurgen Klopp, it’s us versus the world. It’s him, and his players, and this club, up against everyone else this season. Oh, and by the way, that “everyone” sometimes means the referees.
Now to talk about the few hours before the match. First it starts as a rumor online, and you protect yourself because rumors happen all the time and they’re not true more often than not. Alisson Becker nearly had his arm broken off or something. He absolutely can’t be fit yet. Then, around about the time the team buses are showing up to the stadium, the man himself posts a graphic of himself on Instagram with the phrase, “God is good,” on it. There’s just no way, right? He’s just messing with us. And finally, the confirmation. 90 minutes before kickoff the team’s official channels tell us he’s in the matchday squad. A miracle of modern medicine.
I bring up these two things before I talk about what happened on the pitch because I think it’s the two things that inform what’s going to happen in the game. Liverpool against the world is true when that penalty is given, it’s true when George Baldock takes a cheapshot on Gini Wijnaldum near the technical area and the manager needs to physically hold the Dutchman back from doing something that might’ve been frowned upon. It’s true when Diogo Jota makes it 2-1 after just making his second 80 yard run in two minutes on dead legs.
I bring up Alisson because he keeps it 2-1 three times before the final whistle. Maybe we forget about this result when we’re on the march in April. We might look back and just remember the three points, but I guarantee the manager and his team know what this win means for them. It reminds them they’re champions.
Now, let’s dig deeper on Liverpool’s 2-1 victory over Sheffield United.
Winners and Losers
There’s not a person in the world that needed to do something more than Roberto Firmino needed to put a ball into the net. I do not care to rehash the countless arguments about his form, but all I want to say is that you could certainly tell that this patch of form was weighing on him. I think the switch in formation tonight was more about getting him a kickstart than anything else. And it worked! He got his goal, of course, but he was actively involved in the build up. His touch looked good and his passing was crisp.
The clean sheet on Wednesday night was so, so important for Gomez. First game without Virgil van Dijk. The backup goalkeeper is still in. Pressure abounds on his shoulders.
This match was even more important for him. Sheffield United are a really difficult team to play. As Audun pointed out on Twitter, Oliver McBurnie won 13 aerial duels tonight. He’s a huge forward. Those are the type of forwards Gomez really struggles against, but he won his battles tonight. Sure, the scoreline shows that the opponent scored one goal, but it was from a penalty that shouldn’t be a penalty. I think Gomez will go to bed happy with his performance tonight.
How do you find an adequate backup for the best attacking front three in the world? That’s a question Liverpool’s decision makers and fans have been asking for two years. Well, I think we finally have our answer in a small Portuguese man with a beautiful smile. Jota gets the winner and of course that’s important, but I was so impressed with what he offered in terms of options all night. Being the 4th attacker allowed him to find interesting spots on the pitch all night and let Mo Salah get into dangerous areas. What a signing he has been. Timo Werner who?
Talking about referees
Maybe you’re reading this site for the first time tonight. Maybe you’ve known me for a long time. One thing I hate doing is talking about referees. I think they’re nerds and they ruin football and I’m pretty sure all the calls even out over the course of a season. But for the love of the Christ have the calls been atrocious lately. There’s everything that happens in the Derby last week and then tonight Fabinho comes sweeping in like Inspector Gadget to win a beautiful tac—wait, it’s been given as a foul. Hang on, it’s going to VAR? For what? Oh they’ve given a penalty.
I’ll say this one thing. VAR is only as good as the human looking at the screen. What’s happening with the technology and the referees who use it in England is downright scandalous at the moment. Every other league on the planet has figured out how to use this technology correctly. Sort it out.
I have mixed feelings about how the formation worked tonight. From the first twelve minutes of the game, it looked like Liverpool were going to score five goals and coast to victory. Then Sheffield is 1-0 up and the Reds spend the next 35 minutes trying to figure out how to walk like they’re a new born baby giraffe. I liked what the 4-2-3-1 gave to the attack in terms of options, but I also think it took away from the midfield. Maybe that’s different when Thiago is fit. I don’t know. Jury is still out on this.
Not being able to celebrate beautiful Salah goals
So, this goal didn’t count because Salah was marginally offside. There’s certainly things in this world that are more pressing in terms of issues that need to be solved, but I’d like to suggest that when we get around to finally fixing the rules of football we do something about goals like this. Sure, he’s marginally offside but what happens after that should probably mean the goal gets to count. I want to celebrate this goal and remember it forever. But instead there’s some lines drawn on my TV screen and I’m just annoyed. Oh well.
What Happens Next?
If you thought you could take a few breaths you thought wrong. Liverpool return to European action on Tuesday night to take on something called FC Midtjylland. People tell me they’re the Danish champions. I think they’re good at breakfast pastries or something. I’m really not sure so I’ll leave the serious analysis to the people who actually know about football.
The march is on. Up the Us Against The World Reds.