A WEEK is a long time in football.
As Liverpool went into last weekend’s Merseyside derby against Everton, they were the red-hot favourites to retain the Premier League title they won in glorious fashion last summer, yet this was a performance of a team still reeling from a crippling blow to their solar-plexus.
Virgil van Dijk’s long-term injury has shaken Liverpool’s aura and while they found a way to win this game courtesy of goals from Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota, the authority they had in their game has been lost for now.
In truth, Sheffield United deserved a point from this match and could even have left Anfield with all three points in they were more clinical in front of goal, with Reds boss Jurgen Klopp looking on with concern as his side were pushed onto the back foot for long periods.
It didn’t take long for the Van Dijk-sized hole in the Liverpool defence to become glaringly evident as Sheffield United showed real optimism in the opening quarter at Anfield.
A long-range Trent Alexander-Arnold effort forced a fine save from Blades keeper Aaron Ramsdale before Sadio Mane had a chance to fire Liverpool ahead, with John Egan was on hand to make a vital clearance as the visitors quickly switched their attentions to the other end of the field.
After their heroics flirting with a European finish last season, Chris Wilder’s Blades have been blunted in the opening month of this season, as they have drawn just one of their opening five games and lost the rest.
Yet they did not appear to be lacking on confidence as they passed the ball impressively and pressed a Liverpool defensive line that featured Fabinho and Joe Gomez at its heart.
Even with Alisson Becker back in goal for the first time since the opening day of the season, United looked threatening before they were awarded a penalty after yet another contentious VAR decision went against Liverpool.
After they were on the wrong end of a host of decisions in last weekend’s Merseyside derby, Liverpool had cause for complaint against as Fabinho was adjudged to have fouled Oli McBurnie in a challenge on the edge of the box.
It appeared that contact had come just outside of the penalty area, but referee Mike Dean was advised to point to the spot and Sander Berge made no mistake from the spot.
It was the first Premier League penalty Liverpool faced at Anfield in two years and 17 days, since a 0-0 draw with Man City in October 2018, but Klopp was not amused by the decision.
"The penalty was not even a foul," he said. "During a season there are so many different periods, we have had an injustice and we have had to go again. I love these games, as you earn all of the rest. You earn the easier games when it all goes your way on nights like this.
"We struggled with McBurnie in the first half but we changed our positioning and won the second balls. We were dominating at 2-1 and had some really good football but then they came back.
"They never give up, I respect that so much. They go and go and go. Chris is doing a wonderful job."
Sheffield United had more than enough chances to get something from the game, but a goal from Roberto Firmino just before half-time and a fine headed winner by Diogo Jota ensured Liverpool joined Everton on 13 points at the top of the table.
"It was hard as expected, they are a good side who work really hard. We knew it would be difficult and we are delighted to get the points," said Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson.
"McBurnie was very good in the air so it was hard for the lads at the back but they coped and worked it out better in the second half. We should have killed the game off with another goal or two.
"I am only interested in the mentality in our changing room and I see hunger, resilience, character to dig in and win if you are not playing at your best. We showed we can dig in and see results out."
Sheffield United have to be encouraged by their display and even though they have collected just one point from their first six matches, they will start to win soon after a display that enhanced the already glowing reputation of Republic of Ireland full-back Enda Stevens.
As for Liverpool, they have now extended their unbeaten Premier League record at Anfield to a remarkable 62 matches and are justone behind the club’s all-time record set between 1978 and 1981.