Sheffield United 0-2 Liverpool
Premier League (15), Bramall Lane
December 6, 2023
Goals: Van Dijk 37′, Szoboslzai 90+5′
A worrying performance?
Clearly, this was not a night where we saw Liverpool at their sparkling best, but you wonder whether Jurgen Klopp will have too many concerns about the nature of the performance.
Ultimately, it is hard to divorce a mixed showing from the context of Chris Wilder’s emotional return, or the fact that the Reds are simply trying to battle their way through a gruelling period with their rotational options limited by injuries.
The only thing that matters at times like these is to come away with three points as frequently as you can, and often that will need to be done in ugly fashion.
Limiting the opposition to 0.48 xG and then scoring from a set-piece and a counter-attack is exactly how you do that.
Mixed results for new-look midfield
There was plenty of excitement among supporters when a midfield three comprising three summer signings was revealed ahead of kick-off.
Yet, much like with so many other areas of the team, it ended up being a mixed evening for the engine room in South Yorkshire.
As has happened in his rare outings there before, Alexis Mac Allister struggled to get involved in a more advanced role, a fact underlined by the 13 touches he managed in the first half.
And alongside him, Dominik Szoboszlai continued his recent habit of not exactly playing poorly but also exerting limited influence – up to his late goal, at least – in comparison to his early months Anfield.
That left Wataru Endo as arguably the most impressive performer in there, the Japan captain doing a decent job of taking up positions that helped shield the back four and using possession well in tight areas.
Still, if the most important measure of a midfield’s success is whether or not the game was won, the fans can have few complaints about this new-look unit.
Liverpool can’t afford more injuries
It seemed inevitable from the first minute here that Alexis Mac Allister would ultimately leave the field earlier than planned.
But Liverpool must hope and pray that the Argentine’s withdrawal was simply a consequence of the fact he had been in the wars throughout the 90 minutes, rather than a muscle injury.
It has happened quietly and steadily, but the Reds have already accumulated a list of absentees that is seriously compromising their ability to rotate through this gruelling period.
Any more and they would be entering territory where it becomes extremely difficult to maintain a burgeoning title challenge.
Centre-backs shine under pressure
But it doesn’t half help that the man alongside him is an utter colossus capable of forming a formidable partnership with anyone, as was seen against Sheffield United.
In the end, it was Konate who took on a dominant role, winning a ludicrous 14 aerial duels, as well as making five tackles and three interceptions.
However, Virgil van Dijk‘s four clearances and four aerials won were also complemented by a goal and a leadership of the back four that makes the Reds hard to get at.
Kelleher comes through another test
There will have been many people who questioned the legitimacy of Klopp’s defence of his back-up goalkeeper after conceding two questionable goals against Fulham.
However, Liverpool’s faith in Caoimhin Kelleher is absolute, and he showed why in keeping an important clean sheet en route to victory here.
The Irishman’s confidence was clear in the excellent first-half save he made from James McAtee, which was also quickly followed by an impressive claim from a cross and general excellence with the ball at his feet.
Should Alisson Becker’s recovery continue as expected, then Kelleher has just two more games between the sticks before he is replaced for the visit of Manchester United.
But he is three wins from three so far and is showing signs that he will continue to make this stint in the team a productive one from a personal perspective.