Robbie Fowler scoring twice against Sheffield United sounds like a stat from the last time the Blades were in the Premiership, but there was no mistake unless you count the blunders by Rob Kozluk and Nick Montgomery that handed the striker two penalties and Liverpool an easy win.
Fowler made no mistake from the spot either. His only possible complaint, on his first full league appearance of the season, was that he missed chances to mark the occasion with a hat-trick.
Steven Gerrard said it was important to take Sheffield United as seriously as Liverpool took Barcelona, especially after managing only a draw at Bramall Lane on the first day of the season, yet after scaling the Camp Nou heights, Rafa Benitez made no fewer than seven changes to the starting line-up. Back came Jerzy Dudek, Sami Hyypia and Fowler, and there was a debut for Javier Mascherano, the Argentina international whose move from West Ham has just received Fifa clearance.
Sheffield United tried to annoy Liverpool by forcing them to defend the Anfield Road end in the first half, though it was to no avail. After 18 uneventful minutes the hitherto inconspicuous Fowler, up to that point rivalling Mascherano as Liverpool's quietest performer, was banging in a penalty in front of his biggest fans to give his side the lead. Peter Crouch took a kick in the face from Rob Hulse as Mark Gonzalez swung over corner and had to retire bleeding, but Steve Bennett had already blown for a foul by Kozluk on Gerrard.
Replays suggested the intent was minimal as well as the contact and that Gerrard had used his experience to outwit a naive defender, though the argument was short-lived because seven minutes later Liverpool had another penalty and Fowler a second goal. Once more Gerrard was the player fouled, and once again there was a suggestion that he went to ground rather easily, though there was no doubt this time that Montgomery had foolishly raised an arm to restrain him. After losing two goals in the first half-hour to nervous defending it was beginning to look as though the Blades had put themselves under pressure by asking to play in front of the Kop.
The visitors' composure was not helped when Chris Lucketti had to come off injured after 32 minutes, leaving the back line in some disarray as Kozluk had already been withdrawn. United survived to the interval without further mishap though, thanks to Paddy Kenny making a sharp save from Gonzalez and Fowler making a hash of controlling a potentially defence-splitting pass from Hyypia. If the game could have done with a bit more goalmouth excitement, at least home fans were able to see the promise of Mascherano (not that Liverpool need many more international midfielders), who grew in confidence and influence as the afternoon progressed.
Gerrard continued to be the midfielder most likely to make something happen, however, and almost scored after 56 minutes, but he shot just wide. He had an even better opportunity four minutes later, when Jermaine Pennant dug a cross back from the by-line, though just as Gerrard was steaming in to place a powerful header, the ball was diverted over the bar by a less well-placed Fowler in search of his hat-trick. When Fowler got an opportunity of his own from Dirk Kuyt's cross shortly afterwards he was easily outjumped by Phil Jagielka.
Gamely, with the match petering out and the United fans having to remind Liverpool to sing, the Blades sent on Jon Stead for the final quarter to play up front alongside Hulse. But even that went wrong. Stead was soon back helping out his defence at a corner when Liverpool scored a third goal through his legs. Kenny was partially unsighted when the ball fell to Hyypia and could only turn his shot over the line.
That served to liven up Liverpool as well as knock the stuffing out of United, and the last few minutes were open and entertaining. Gerrard got the goal his performance deserved when a move started by Mascherano was smartly developed by a first-time pass from Fowler, leaving the captain enough time to drill a low shot past Kenny before departing to thunderous applause to make way for Xabi Alonso.
Hulse managed to hit the bar when Colin Kazim-Richards crossed dangerously from the right, though it was just about United's only threat of the afternoon. Even Neil Warnock was quiet, though not as quiet as Fowler when his last chance of a third goal slid under his boot from Kuyt's cross. He's still God at Anfield, just not quite as omnipotent as he used to be.
Man of the match: Steven Gerrard
Made two goals and scored another. Both penalties were a little soft, but Gerrard gets into good positions and uses his experience. Nothing wrong with that and nothing wrong with the goal he scored, either.
Jerzy Dudek, Jamie Carragher (Daniel Agger), Steve Finnan, Sami Hyypia, Steven Gerrard (Xabi Alonso), Mark Gonzalez, Javier Mascherano, Jermaine Pennant, John Arne Riise, Peter Crouch (Dirk Kuyt), Robbie Fowler
Paddy Kenny, Chris Armstrong, Derek Geary, Rob Kozluk (Colin Kazim-Richards), Chris Lucketti (Chris Morgan), Ahmed Fathi, Phil Jagielka, Nick Montgomery, Stephen Quinn (Jonathan Stead), Michael Tonge, Rob Hulse
Referee: Bennett, S
Sheff Utd 1
Sheff Utd 6
Sheff Utd 2
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