There was plenty to like about Liverpool’s performance against Sheffield United on Sunday night. Whilst some took to social media to complain that it appeared to be ‘more of the same’ after watching forty-five minute of the Reds dominate possession but go in at 0-0, the reality is that things were far from what we’ve seen over the last month or so. Liverpool were, at least, trying slightly different things and there was less of the brainless crossing that we’ve grown accustomed to. Though Aaron Ramsdale wasn’t exactly having to produce peak Gianluigi Buffon levels of goalkeeping to keep us out, he nevertheless made some impressive saves to keep the game level going into the break. The important thing is that the players didn’t lose their patience, even if vast swathes of the supporter base did. They remembered that games are played over ninety minutes and kept going.
So in the last few minutes I’ve seen tweets comparing Sheffield Utd’s goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale to Gordon Banks, Oliver Kahn and Dino Zoff. Not a bad effort that we put a couple past him then eh 😂
— Skippy Johnston 🦘🇦🇺 (@LukeAFoley) March 1, 2021
In some ways, the opening goal was a microcosm of what we’d come to expect from Liverpool last season. There was some lovely play down the righthand side, with Trent Alexander-Arnold carrying on running when the Sheffield United defenders seem to stop because they thought that the ball had gone out of play. Trent was able to whip in a cross into the danger zone that Roberto Firmino was alive to, directing it into the path of Curtis Jones who calmly slotted it into the back of the net. That refusal to give up was what the Reds were best at last season, as well as the realisation that they need to keep going for the full ninety minutes to see what they can get out of a game, which seems to have gone missing this time around. The next thing that Jürgen Klopp and his players need to remember is how to keep the wins coming and not let this prove to be another false dawn.
Keep The Defence Together
The first stop for Jürgen Klopp and his backroom staff is to allow the defence to build up some sort of chemistry. Whilst Nat Phillips is far from the best central defender that Liverpool have ever had and was caught out once or twice against Sheffield United, he’s not let anyone down when he’s been called upon lately. His performance against the Blades was generally good and he seems to have developed a decent understand with Ozan Kabak. Though Oli McBurnie and David McGoldrick don’t offer the same sort of threat that will come from Olivier Giroud, Timo Werner and Callum Hudson-Odoi, they still managed to keep a clean sheet with the club’s third-choice goalkeeper behind them. Given the fact that it’s extremely unlikely that Alisson Becker will be back in goal on Thursday night, it might be nice for the defensive unit that kept Sheffield United out to go again.
Roy Keane: “They’re signed with Liverpool Football Club [Phillips & Kabak] if they can’t deal with playing Sheffield United away, they should retire.” #LFC
— LFC Transfer Room (@LFCTransferRoom) February 28, 2021
There was a lot of criticism around Kabak’s performance that I have to say I just don’t understand. I’m really not sure what everyone expects from the Turkish defender, given that he’s arrived in a new country and to a club that has been extremely low on confidence. Add to that the fact that he’s had to work with numerous different defensive partners and two different goalkeepers during just four appearances and you can see that he’s actually settled pretty well and will only get better the more he’s allowed to play with a consistent set of teammates around him. Many expect Fabinho to be fit for the Chelsea match and if he is then I desperately hope that Klopp asks him to return to his defensive midfielder role. He’s one of the best in the world at it and putting him there will allow Andy Robertson and Alexander-Arnold to get back to supporting the attackers, offering the side more balance.
Even A Draw Would Be Progress
The match against Sheffield United felt very much like a ‘must-win’, given their position at the foot of the table and Liverpool’s inability to get a result out of the bottom teams so far this season. For me, the game against Chelsea on Thursday night feels more like a ‘must-not-lose’. More than anything else, the Reds need to remember what it’s like to keep getting results without taking one step forward and then another back. Victories against Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United were followed up with three straight defeats; the Champions League win over RB Leipzig preceded defeat in the Merseyside derby. Jürgen Klopp’s team has developed a habit of losing, even accepting all of the mitigating circumstances around many of those defeats. If we can get a draw against the London club then it will help our attempts to get back into the top four, or at least stop them from overtaking us.
Sheffield United 0-2 Liverpool
The Reds are back to winning ways at Bramall Lane after a four-match losing streak as a Curtis Jones strike and a Kean Bryan own goal move the champions a point behind Chelsea in the race for top four spots.#SHELIV #PL #seanknows pic.twitter.com/kwflGGUszy
— Sean Cardovillis (@sean_cardo) March 1, 2021
On top of developing something of a habit of losing, the aura of Anfield has been completely shattered. Since Burnley broke our incredible record, we’ve failed to win a match at what was once the ‘bastion of invincibility’ that Bill Shankly had called for. If we can stop losing, especially at home, then that will put us in a good position to at least attempt to finish in the top four. FiveThiryEight’s model has us as the most likely team to finish second behind Manchester City, but that will only happen if we’re able to stop dropping stupid points virtually every week. Jürgen Klopp has a history with Chelsea’s new manager Thomas Tüchel, not least of all because he replaced our bespectacled boss at both Mainz and Borussia Dortmund. It would doubtless give Klopp some pleasure to hand his compatriot his first defeat as Chelsea’s new manager, as well as giving the club a boost. At the very least, just don’t lose.