Sheffield United 0 Liverpool 2
Liverpool have specialised in creating history in recent years but there may be a sense of relief they did not make more. The prospect of a fifth straight league defeat, a fate they had not suffered since 1953, loomed as long as Aaron Ramsdale produced an inspired performance but receded after Curtis Jones struck.
As Kean Bryan was debited with an own goal, the last match of February brought Liverpool’s first points and, if wins over the bottom club used to be taken for granted, this was welcome.
On the 20th anniversary of Jürgen Klopp’s managerial bow, a victory for Mainz over Duisburg, the breakthrough came from a 20-year-old. Jones has been much Liverpool’s best midfielder in recent weeks and was a deserving scorer. Sheffield United, however, could rue another night when a committed performance brought no reward.
Klopp and Chris Wilder were rivals in the stakes for the manager of the year award last season but if their fortunes have waned since then, there are reasons. Liverpool fielded their third-choice goalkeeper and were without their five preferred options at centre-back. Defensive injuries are not confined to the champions and United were missing last season's three automatic choices at centre-back.
They selected their eighth trio of the season, Liverpool their 18th duo. Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak at least amounted to the first pair of out-and-out centre-backs Klopp had picked together since November.
They soon required third choice goalkeeper to come to their aid (Caoimhín Kelleher also missed out due to injury). Minus Alisson, absent on compassionate grounds after the death of his father, Adrián made only his third league start of the season. As the first finished 7-2, and not to Liverpool, that may have presented a concern but when David McGoldrick rose highest to meet Ollie Norwood’s free-kick, the Spaniard made a fine save from his header. A second decent stop, when he parried McGoldrick’s deflected shot, also boded well.
Yet he was soon overshadowed by his United counterpart. Aaron Ramsdale has endured a troubled campaign as the summer signing has struggled to maintain the standards Dean Henderson set, but his was a first half worthy of his predecessor.
Both the number and the variety of saves impressed, beginning when denied Roberto Firmino, who capitalised on a ricochet to surge clear, and then recovered to tip Andy Robertson's misdirected cross away. He was alert again when he reacted swiftly to smother Jones' shot and, after the 38-year-old Phil Jagielka made a fine challenge on the youngster, the Premier League's oldest outfield player required his goalkeeper's assistance.
Jagielka was left labouring when isolated in a sprint against Mohamed Salah, who was released by Firmino's flick. Ramsdale came to the rescue, just as he did when Ethan Ampadu coughed up possession to Trent Alexander-Arnold and his rising shot was brilliantly tipped over. He made it a quintet of memorable stops when parrying Gini Wijnaldum's drive; the goal-shy Firmino strangely neglected to shoot when he latched on to the rebound.
And, for a second or two, United appeared to have led in comical fashion. Kabak has had a false start to his Liverpool career and it seemed to take another wrong turn when he poked the ball past Adrián and into his own goal. He was relieved Oli McBurnie was flagged offside as each chased Enda Stevens’ pass.
The ball entered the Liverpool net for a second time, even if the whistle had gone long before McBurnie’s header crossed the line. Yet when a goal was given, it felt a surprise.
There was no question aboutJones’ emphatic finish but Liverpool’s muted celebrations had betrayed their doubts if Alexander-Arnold had kept the ball in before his cross deflected off Jagielka to the scorer. Perhaps United froze.
Certainly Alexander-Arnold’s first-half crossing had offered signs he is returning to his best. Liverpool’s young locals combined again minutes later, with Ramsdale holding Jones’ header after the right-back crossed.
The offside Sadio Mané then became the third player to have a goal disallowed while the increasingly influential Alexander-Arnold shot just wide.
Wilder’s response came in the form of a double substitution, but two of his starters combined when they ought to have equalised. Norwood crossed and the unmarked McBurnie headed just wide. It formed part of a spirited response from United but they soon found themselves two goals down. Firmino exchanged passes with Jones and Mané but his shot took a telling deflection off Kean Bryan to fly over Ramsdale.
The Premier League deemed it a Bryan own goal as Firmino remained stuck on six goals for the season. Nevertheless, it gave Liverpool confidence, symbolised by the sight of Adrián juggling the ball in his own box and it scarcely mattered when Salah missed a golden chance. While they were without 10 players, James Milner and Naby Keita made comebacks as replacements on what proved a fine night for them. - Guardian