Klopp salutes Liverpool’s grit as they grind out another victory
Henderson mistake costly for Sheffield United as Wijnaldum seals the points for league leaders
Dean Henderson of Sheffield United is beaten by a shot from Georginio Wijnaldum which was enough to give Liverpool victory at Bramall Lane. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Chris Wilder entered the media suite profuse with apologies for his lateness. He had been waylaid by Jürgen Klopp, held up by his own tribute to the man named Fifa’s coach of the year. The Sheffield United manager had given his Liverpool counterpart his second prize of the week, a bottle of champagne.
“I wanted to present him with something from our football club, because I think it is important we recognise his achievements,” said Wilder. The third gift, sadly for him, came from his goalkeeper, Dean Henderson, who presented Liverpool with the points.
Wilder could not vouch for the quality of bottle’s contents; nor was it drunk by either manager.
“I am not a connoisseur of champagne,” he said. “He has had a beer and talked about the game. He is open and that is quite refreshing because I don’t get that feel that quite a few managers in the Premier League want to do that. He is a right down-to-earth guy.”
There is, one senses, no higher praise from the deliberately unflashy Wilder.
These are two managers who have been tactical innovators but, as Wilder’s overlapping centre-backs eschewed overlapping to subdue Liverpool’s inverted wingers and false nine, earthy qualities helped secure Liverpool’s 16th successive league win. This was not champagne football.
“We had to adapt and battle,” Virgil van Dijk said. “That was tough. The hostile atmosphere is something I enjoy. We fought hard for the three points.”
Liverpool won ugly. Arguably they had done the same at Chelsea six days earlier, too.
“It wasn’t the first time,” Klopp said. “I don’t know how many times we did that already and that feels good.”
Victory was sealed by Henderson’s error, allowing Georginio Wijnaldum’s shot to wriggle out of his grasp, but also forged by sweat, by more graft than craft.
“They didn’t fight more or run more than us, which is important. It’s not about waiting for the moment when it clicks and we fly and shoot somebody out of their own stadium,” he said. “It’s about really working for that moment and we had to work for 95 minutes.”
This was not Liverpool at their gun-slinging best. Sadio Mané’s aim was awry, Mohamed Salah short of bullets, Roberto Firmino starved of ammunition.
“Look at how they defended Bobby; that was really good,” said an admiring Klopp.
Victory was instead underpinned by the men who preserved a clean sheet. The defiance of Van Dijk and Andrew Robertson and the solidity of Fabinho helped Liverpool grind out a win.
“If I had turned this into a game of basketball, we would have got murdered,” Wilder said. Instead, the high numbers accumulated by Liverpool have come over the course of a winning run that dates back to March. Two more victories will give them a share of Manchester City’s top-flight record.
“It’s the media who love statistics,” said Van Dijk. “The reality is we have nothing at the moment.”
Klopp adopted a similar approach, justifying Wilder’s description as down to earth. “I try to understand how other people think about things but the way I think about things, I’m not interested in the number,” he said.