Liverpool took their spectacular 2019 form into the New Year, with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Sheffield United on Thursday evening leaving them unbeaten
It took Liverpool less than four minutes to grab their first goal of 2020, as George Baldock’s slip allowed Andy Robertson to collect Virgil van Dijk’s long pass and cross for Mohamed Salah to tap home.
Were it not for an exceptional save from Dean Henderson, Salah would have doubled both his and Liverpool’s lead. However, despite the host’s dominance, the Blades dug in and headed for the interval just one goal down.
Salah was in the thick of the action on the hour mark, as a hopeful chip into the box (which certainly wasn’t a shot) was left by everybody – only to bounce off the inside of the post. A grateful Henderson collected off his line to spare the Blades’ blushes.
The lead was doubled at breakneck speed just minutes later, as Alisson rolling out from his box resulted in Sadio Mane slotting home in what seemed like seconds. The ball reached the Senegalese on the wing and his initial shot was saved after an exchange with Salah – however he was first to the ball to poke home for 2-0.
Oli McBurnie wasted a late chance to give United a lifeline, but his scuffed shot was comfortably saved by Alisson on the line. New year, same Liverpool and a 13-point lead at the Premier League summit.
Key Talking Point
While other big sides have been undone and struggled against Sheffield United, Jurgen Klopp demonstrated his tactical flexibility to ensure his side wouldn’t be the victims of another Blades’ upset.
On paper it looked like Liverpool would deploy a 4-3-3 formation on Thursday evening, but it appeared that Jordan Henderson and James Milner – who was called in for Naby Keita at the last minute – had been given instructions to tweak the Reds’ shape during the game.
It’s crazy, watching LIV defenders pass it around the back and it’s VVD, Gomez, Henderson & Milner all involved. TAA & Robertson, so called defenders – aren’t even in camera shot they’re so high up pitch. Role of fullbacks has changed so much the last 2-3 years!
— Tom the FPL Jester (@FPLjester) January 2, 2020
One minute Henderson is forward the next he’s in his own half offering support to the centre halves.
— 25 (@rictov_) January 2, 2020
Both Henderson and Milner dropping in as a third centre half was a common sight, which allowed Liverpool‘s full-backs to play higher up the pitch – nullifying the Blades’ wing-backs without being overrun in midfield.
At the other end of the pitch, Milner continually popped up on the right flank – which allowed Salah to drift inside and adopt a central role. It was a nightmare for the typically organised United back three, as we will discuss very shortly…
Starting XI: Alisson (7); Alexander-Arnold (7), Gomez (7), Van Dijk (8), Robertson (7); Milner (8), Henderson (8), Wijnaldum (7); Salah (8), Firmino (6), Mané (7)
Substitutes: Origi (6), Lallana (5)
Salah’s movement picked the lock that so many teams have struggled with this season – how do you break the resolute back three of Sheffield United.
The Egyptian was given the freedom to drift inside from the right flank and it paid off, it created his two early chances – the first of which he converted and the second he was unlucky to see saved. But it also provided space for those around him, typified by Mane’s goal as Salah drew the Blades’ defence towards him like a magnet to give his teammate room to finish.
Denied twice by excellent Henderson saves, Salah will be disappointed to have scored just once.
Salah class tonight. Great movement. Love to see him in the goals as well.
— Empire of the Kop (@empireofthekop) January 2, 2020
Firmino has wasted a couple of great chances to play Salah in. The Egyptian’s movement has been excellent.
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceLFC) January 2, 2020
Key Talking Point
You can guarantee that Chris Wilder’s game plan wouldn’t have included conceding in the first five minutes! But once keeping it tight went out the window, the Blades recovered remarkably well.
While many teams might have buckled under the weight of Liverpool’s juggernaut and invincibility at Anfield, United ensured that they regained their shape and slotted into a back five whenever they lost possession. That platform allowed the midfield trio and attacking pair to hassle and harry their opponents high up the pitch when needed.
I have to say Sheffield United when they loose possession they recover back into their formation very well. #LIVSHU
— Joe Carver (@jcarver903) January 2, 2020
However, despite creating a few good chances, the Blades’ were suffering from a lack of quality in the final third. At times they seemed pressured and in awe of Liverpool’s quality, while tired legs looked like they might be the cause for misplaced passes.
Starting XI: Henderson (8*); Basham (7), Egan (7), O’Connell (6); Baldock (5), Lundstram (6), Norwood (6), Fleck (5), Stevens (6); McGoldrick (6), Mousset (5)
Substitutes: Sharp (6), McBurnie (6), Besic (5)
The last time these two teams met, Dean Henderson’s mistake was the difference as Liverpool laboured to a 1-0 victory at Bramall Lane. So it speaks volumes about the Blades’ goalkeeper that he arrived at Anfield and delivered a string of exceptional saves against the league leaders.
The pick of the bunch came in the 11th minute, when Salah’s instinctive shot forced even sharper reactions for Henderson to somehow claw it behind. The duo came face to face later in the half, the goalkeeper unflappable with the Egyptian running towards him at full speed.
Should be wining 3-0 by now but Dean Henderson having a cracking game.
— Shpelvin (@Shpelvin) January 2, 2020
Dean Henderson is definitely ready to replace David De Gea. Shocking his he doesn’t start for England yet and replaces the horrifying pickford.
— w օ Ӏ f ɢ a η ɢ ✞ (@Gaeist) January 2, 2020
If Dean Henderson keeps this kind of form and DDG keeps being error prone and we can get 50m for DDG, I’m giving Romero and Henderson a chance and moving him(DDG) on
— LFG (@FlavionsKimani) January 2, 2020
He was unlucky with the second goal as neither he or his defenders could beat Mané to the rebound, but that wasn’t enough to stop the calls for England and Manchester United starting berths later in the year.
The FA Cup third round brings no respite for Jurgen Klopp, as Everton visit Anfield this Sunday. Once the Merseyside derby is wrapped up, a trio of tricky Premier League fixtures awaits – the Reds face Tottenham and Wolves away either side of a home match against Manchester United.
The Blades, meanwhile, need to avoid a giant killing in Sunday’s FA Cup visit of Fylde, before welcoming West Ham to Bramall Lane in the latest edition of Friday night Premier League action.