Liverpool may have found new undroppable player
Liverpool may have found new undroppable player after win at Sheffield United
Ian Doyle gives his match verdict after 2-0 win away to Sheffield United as Liverpool centre-back pecking order might have changed
22:05, 28 FEB 2021
Sunday was Global Scouse Day, the annual celebration of the traditional dish of the city.
And that was the perfect opportunity for Liverpool to regain their Premier League appetite.
A much-needed victory arrested a run of four successive top-flight defeats and breathed new life into their spluttering top-four challenge.
Appropriate, too, that the breakthrough came from a strike cooked up by the two homegrown talents in Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Matters had been worryingly familiar during a first half in which Liverpool dominated both possession and chances only to find Sheffield United goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale impossible to breach.
Confidence and self-belief could have wavered. Enter, then, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Curtis Jones.
Earlier in the day, an Alexander-Arnold contribution had emerged with a sizeable donation to the Whitechapel Centre to help feed local homeless people.
And here at Bramall Lane, it was Jones who was the beneficiary of his team-mate’s good work.
With Liverpool pressing, Alexander-Arnold had a shot blocked before regaining possession and forcing his way to the byline and pulling a cross back into the danger zone, where Jones thrashed a first-time finish from 12 yards.
VAR, inevitably, became involved as Sheffield United claimed the ball had crossed the line before the cross was delivered, replays swiftly scotching such a suggestion.
That the Scouse duo combined was no coincidence on the evidence of an evening that will have gone some way to dressing the wound of last weekend’s hugely disappointing derby defeat.
Alexander-Arnold gave further evidence he is regaining his best form while Jones, let off the leash somewhat by Klopp in a slightly tweaked midfield, revelled in being allowed to to push forward while never ignoring his defensive duties.
Okay, it was only Sheffield United, marooned at the foot of the table and destined for a return to the Championship.
But this was a result Liverpool desperately needed ahead of a run of season-defining games, starting with the visit of near rivals Chelsea on Thursday.
It was achieved without Diogo Jota and Fabinho despite their return to training this week, the former ill while the latter wasn’t considered ready for such a blood-and-thunder encounter.
However, the performance of Nat Phillips at the heart of defence made light of the absence of both the Brazilian and Jordan Henderson, who has joined lengthy injury list for at least the next six weeks.
Dominant in the air, resolute defensively and demonstrating the right character, Phillips now has a strong claim to be Liverpool’s chief starting centre-back between now and the end of the season.
Alongside him, though, Ozan Kabak continues to concern. He escaped scoring an own goal in the first half due to a correct offside call but that it even happened owed much to the lack of communication from the new signing that Klopp was making abundantly clear on the touchline during the first half.
However, the 20-year-old will take heart from a clean sheet – a first for Liverpool in eight away Premier League games – with Roberto Firmino similarly encouraged by his strike for Liverpool’s second, even if it may ultimately go down as an own goal from home defender Kean Bryan.
Other positives came with James Milner returning as a late substitute to help see the game out, while Naby Keita’s brief cameo was his first outing since before Christmas.
With Alisson Becker missing following the death of his father earlier in the week and second-choice goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher still injured, it meant Adrian, who hadn’t featured since the Champions League win at Ajax back in October, returned between the sticks for Liverpool.
The Spaniard was solid throughout, with any nerves settled with two saves from Blades skipper David McGoldrick during the opening stages, first from a close-range header and then from a shot that deflected off Oli McBurnie.
Instead, the goalkeeping issue Liverpool had during the first half was at the other end of the field where home shot-stopper Ramsdale was in rare inspired form.
The Brazilian shot too close to the keeper’s body when put clear after Thiago Alcantara’s floated pass was inadvertently flicked into his path off the head of Ethan Ampadu when under pressure from Sadio Mane.
And quite why the forward chose to pass rather than shoot when another Ramsdale save from Gini Wijnaldum fell in his direction only he will know.
Ramsdale was also brave to block at the feet of Jones after a fine Alexander-Arnold cross, the right-back later warming the palms of the goalkeeper before an outstretched leg denied Mohamed Salah.
But once ahead through Jones shortly after the interval, Liverpool were in total control, their lead doubled on 64 minutes when clever footwork from Firmino after a Mane lay-off fashioned the opportunity for a shot that went in off Bryan. It was the 7,000 top-flight goal in Liverpool’s history.
Oliver McBurnie headed wide for the home side in the second hald while Adrian raced from his line late on to deny substitute Oli Burke but, with Phillips impressing, Liverpool saw the game out in relative comfort.
Two points off a top-four berth, the Reds have now won four of their last five games on the road.
With Chelsea, Fulham and RB Lepizig to visit over the next 10 days, the next challenge is to address their Anfield problem.
© 2021 a Reach plc subsidiary