Not for the first time this season, a Liverpool game devolved into a bit of a sloppy mess, with inattention and imprecision fueling miscues throughout, as the Reds handed opportunities to their opponents through loose passing or poor positioning, and wasted their own dangerous situations through similar means, but in the end, a set piece goal and a high-intensity hustle play were enough to take down Sheffield United, handing the Blades the all-time record for goals conceded at this point in the competition.
Below, then, we take a look at some of the winners and losers on the night.
Captain van Tastic: Much has been made of Virgil van Dijk’s form since returning from his torn ACL suffered at the studs of Jordan Pickford back in 2020, with rival fans who had finally resigned themselves to the fact that the Dutchman was undeniably the best centre-back in the world and worth every penny of the £75m the Reds paid for him, desperately clinging to the idea that he would never return to that level.
As is expected of a player nearing his mid-30s — and especially one anchoring a team in transition — van Dijk’s form has been less impeccable than was the case a few years ago, but tonight, he was imperious, and with Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konaté taking turns being careless and unfocused, Liverpool needed him to be.
He scored the opener with a ruthless volley from a pantsless Trent Alexander-Arnold corner delivery, turned a dangerous Sheffield United counter to dust through sheer positioning brilliance, and otherwise kept things under control at the back, as the Reds came under occasional pressure in the final phase of the game.
Winning on a Bad Day: The Reds weren’t particularly impressive on the night, failing to create a clear cut chance until the introduction of Darwin Núñez in the 67th minute, and only taking 15 shots in total against the worst defence in Europe’s top five leagues, but they deserved their win, and did enough to get it, a quality that is critical if a team is to collect the kind of points total required to win the Premier League in the current era.
Of course, it’s not sustainable to consistently have subpar performances, and at some point, Liverpool will have to play really well and just blow some teams out of the water if they’re going to keep pace with Arsenal and keep Manchester City behind them,
Si Hooper: While his incompetence was Liverpool’s gain at the weekend, when he hilariously blew dead a play that looked set to spring Jack Grealish through on goal to give City a shot at all three points against Tottenham, Simon Hooper’s unconventional interpretation of the rules very nearly cost the Reds tonight — and, pending confirmation of the severity of Alexis Mac Allister’s injury, still might.
Sheffield United came to the game with a classic idea in mind; kick the shit out of them and hope the ref allows it, and Hooper gladly obliged, allowing late challenges to fly all night without a single booking, while spending his time penalising aesthetics stuff like kicking the ball away.
Thankfully, the VAR booth neglected to intervene on either Liverpool goal, as both were reviewed for potential fouls in the buildup, but given the bar set by the referee, any reversal of the call on the field would have been outrageous.
What Happens Next
Guess what! The Reds have another early Saturday away kickoff, for the — by my count — 62nd time this season, this time at Crystal Palace, who fell 2-0 at home to Bournemouth earlier tonight. On the bright side, the early fixture means there’s a chance to go top of the table and put pressure on Arsenal, who travel to Aston Villa — the recently crowned Man City killers — later the same day.
Another eventful day of Barclays is impending.