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Football News: Liverpool v Sheffield United - A Quick Liverpool Perspective

Liverpool v Sheffield United - A Quick Liverpool Perspective

Liverpool v Sheffield United


Once again Liverpool do what is needed to pull a win out of the bag after nearly throwing it away. It is becoming a habit making things difficult for themselves. The first half started off with the Blades attacking from kick off, but as soon as they failed to score and lost the ball, they were completely outmatched for the rest of the half. It was almost too easy. Liverpool were able to play it around at will and immediately recover it as Sheff Utd, according to the stats shown at half-time, completed just 38 passes. That was not just because they lack quality, but because they were being forced into mistakes, like the one that ended up in the back of their own net after hitting Nunez. The problem was that Liverpool were not making the most of the easy possession they had, seemingly content to hold a lead.

At half-time there was a change in tack from Sheff Utd, which almost succeeded. In fact for a long period of time it did manage to knock Liverpool off their game and they snatched a fluke equaliser via an own goal off a very unlucky Bradley. The defending did leave a bit to be desired, but the danger should have been seen off easily, even though the exploited the space left by Gomez inverting he had the chance to deal with it but was not physical enough and allowed the player to escape with the ball. For a while the game was a struggle, Liverpool completely dominated the ball but were unable to really make headway into dangerous areas.

The substitutions changed the game. Robertson's driving runs down the flank were a particular danger and Elliott was putting dangerous balls into the box. The second pair of subs completed the process and made Liverpool even more dangerous going forward. It may have taken a worldie from Mac Allister to put the Reds back in front, but it was well deserved and the third was always coming. In fact, if anything the score flattered the Yorkshire club. The worrying thing is how little penetration the team had before the substitutions. They were not getting at the Blades like they should have, far too content with a simple stroll to a 1-0 victory, when they really should have shown a bit more drive to put the game out of sight against a team that were completely outmatched. But what matters is that they did enough when it mattered to win the game.


As for Sheffield United, they came out to have a go, but were just pegged in their own half for most of the first half and struggled just to get a touch on the ball, let alone threaten a goal. Their limitations were badly shown up, despite the clear improvements in their play that have come in recent weeks under Wilder. In the second half there was a very obvious change to tactics, with probably the only thing left to them to do was to try and kick their way out of the hole they were in. There were early deliberate rakes of the back on the ankle with studs, then the bizarre jump onto the back of Konate's knee, which was a blatant attempt to nobble the defender. It is incredible that the officials did not spot what was certainly deliberate, as the ball had gone and there was no need to jump in like that other than to attempt to injure an opponent. It just left Osula free to continue to foul with impunity, which was blatantly all he was on the pitch to do.

I can fully understand why the Blades resorted to that to try and level the field and it nearly worked. It certainly knocked Liverpool out of their stride as foul after foul were ignored by the officials. It made it very difficult to play quick pass-and-move football, as a one-two was impossible, with the player making the first pass immediately being fouled and unable to receive a return. It was reminiscent of watching a lower league team against a Premier League team in the FA Cup, with the lower league side trying to use physicality to even the field. Like a cup match, quality usually tells and it did in this match as the chasing around the Sheff Utd players were doing gradually caught up with them and gaps opened up at the back. It did take a special strike to open the scoring, but it was coming as they were undone by the Liverpool substitutions and tired legs. Earlier in the game someone would have been in Mac Allister's face, but no one could get there quick enough to stop him after the hard work they had put in.


That for me is the big takeaway from this game. This season Liverpool have become more like the Liverpool of the early 1980s, who were not always demolishing teams, but they were the masters of wearing their opponents out and then scoring late to win it. They looked fitter than everyone else because they were letting the ball doing the work and dominating possession, while the opposition chased and chased and chased until their legs were gone. Then gaps appear and a goal is scored. Usually that then leads to the opposition throwing men forward to try and rescue the game and leaving even more gaps to be exploited, as happened with Liverpool's third (and it could easily have been four or five in the end). It is not an accident that Liverpool score so many after 75 minutes, it is due to the way they are playing. The way they dominate the ball and force opponents, even Manchester City, to chase is creating spaces at the back as the games go on. It is not as exciting to watch as the early days under Klopp, but it could go on to be even more successful than the time under him, for whoever takes over. He is leaving something special here for the next man.


Quick notes on the players:


Kelleher - another good game from the Irish keeper, he was unlucky with the goal, but he pulled off some good saves when needed. However, it is clear that when the ball is at his feet he is not capable of launching a quick attack in the same way that Alisson can. That is a very potent weapon missing from the Liverpool armoury, though in most other aspects on the ball he is very good. He keeps it moving well and is comfortable receiving it, he just lacks that vision and range of passing that the Brazilian brings to the team.

Bradley - if he continues to perform like this, it is difficult to see how he can lose his place when Alexander-Arnold returns. He offers far too much attacking thrust down the flanks, the ability to invert when needed and is extremely good defensively. In this form, he deserves to be first choice right-back.

Konate - if only he could stay fit, then Liverpool would have a very solid defensive base, as he is very good for the style of football Liverpool are using. He is big, quick and strong, technically competent and able to drive foward on the ball too. In a physical battle like this game became, he is about as good as it gets without cloning van Dijk. His fitness is an issue that really needs sorting out though.

van Dijk - he has been immense this season, in my opinion the best I have seen him play in a Liverpool shirt. I was not convinced about making him captain with his form being off, but it has brought out the very best in him. He has risen to the task of being the leader of the group as well as a key player in it. He has become a truly special player, with his mentality now matching his exceptional physicality and technique.

Gomez - overall a good game but playing him does mean there is a lack of width on the left, not helped by Gravenberch mostly gravitating to the right and Diaz wanting to cut inside. If he plays there, then there needs to be more width from the forward and midfield areas. Also I do feel he was a little weak on the goal and should have seen out the danger before the ball was delivered into the box. Moving him into midfield did not work this time, as there was little to defend in that area and he lacks the competence on the ball of a natural midfielder.

Szoboszlai - while he is being overshadowed by Mac Allister's excellent current form, he is playing well. Not at the level he was at the start of the season individually, but he is performing better for the team than he was then. Having only just returned to fitness, you would also expect his form to improve as he gets back to full sharpness.

Gravenberch - started off well, even getting stuck in, but struggled to find his passing range and kept drifting over to the right when he was needed on the left. After taking a nasty stud rake on the back of his calf early in the second half, he seemed to lose his desire to get stuck in and reverted to half-hearted challenges. Needs to do more, but he is just coming back from injury, so it was a good chance to feel his way back in. Personally I would have preferred to see Elliott get the minutes though.

Mac Allister - a fantastic performance from a player who is growing into something special. He just seems to keep getting better and better, pulling something out of the bag when it is needed. Up there with van Dijk as Liverpool's player of the season.

Diaz - had Bogle on toast, but never got enough of the ball, nor drove at him enough when he did have it. Played so well but just needed to do a bit more as he had Bogle tied up in knots but failed to make enough of it.

Nunez - Captain Chaos is a very good example of the saying, if at first you don't succeed. He got his reward for closing down the goalkeeper quickly on the second try, with a goal that he has very much deserved for all the work he has done for the team.

Salah - not at his best, but it was still a surprise when he was taken off as he was still looking dangerous, and we have seen so many times how he can be having an off game and then pop up with a goal. It worked out well though as the team looked much better after the subs came on.

Robertson - brought on in place of Gravenberch in the 60th minute. Was excellent after coming on and put himself back ahead of Alexander-Arnold in the assists count. His driving runs down the left flank were exactly what the team had been missing.

Elliott - surprisingly replaced Salah in the 60th minute. Played well, putting some good deliveries into the box after cutting in from the right.

Gakpo - took Gomez's place in the 73rd minute. Looked something near his best and much more comfortable coming in from the left, his natural position. Got a good goal as well.

Jones - came on instead of Szoboszlai, also in the 73rd minute. The midfield has looked so much more composed this season when he has played. Another one that just needs to stay fit, as he could be a key player without the injury problems.

Written by Tris Burke April 06 2024 12:24:23


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