Alexis Mac Allister provides another Liverpool late act for unconventional route back to the top

Liverpool 3-1 Sheffield United: Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo also scored as the Reds went top of the league

Richard Jolly
Friday 05 April 2024 02:20 BST
Left to right: Curtis Jones, Darwin Nunez and Alexis Mac Allister celebrate last night
Left to right: Curtis Jones, Darwin Nunez and Alexis Mac Allister celebrate last night (EPA)

Alexis Mac Allister has an assist to his name in a World Cup final. Should he add a Premier League medal to the most prized of all, Liverpool will have even more reasons to be grateful for his assistance. When Sheffield United appeared intent on rendering this Liverpool’s worst result of the season at Anfield, Mac Allister ensured otherwise.

In a game when the first two goals bounced in off various body parts, neither remotely deliberately, his was the sweetest of strikes.

The man Jurgen Klopp had tried to nickname “Gary” was watched by his near-namesake. Twenty-three years ago, Liverpool secured a treble in part because of a catalytic impact in the run-in from Gary McAllister. Now, as Liverpool look for another haul of three trophies, an Argentinian of Celtic descent has either scored, assisted or both in each of Liverpool’s last six games. His latest intervention was a goal worthy of the earlier McAllister, another midfielder of great technical quality.

An unerringly brilliant shot, rising and rifled into the top corner from edge of the box came when the bottom club had restored parity for 18 nervous minutes. It could have been part of a long-range treble: Mac Allister was inches away from scoring with a 20-yard shot in the first half and went on to rattle the bar from a free kick from 25.

It was a wonderful illustration of clean ball-striking. It came on a day when, with Wataru Endo missing, he had to reprise his role as the defensive midfielder. He instead proved a very attacking one – and a very effective one.

There was a theory that this was a night to bolster Liverpool’s goal difference. Instead, they ended relieved to have an advantage at the top of the table: two points clear after two goals in Anfield’s latest dramatic ending. The 90th-minute clincher came from a combination of two substitutes, Cody Gakpo heading in from the edge of the box after a deep cross from Andy Robertson.

The Scotland captain was outstanding in his half-hour on the pitch. He came on in a double change when Klopp removed Mohamed Salah but a manager whose changes have had a huge impact this season ended up vindicated.

So it became another occasion when Liverpool displayed their powers of recovery. This time the kings of the comeback led, only to be pegged back. In a different way, they conjured a response.

They had led in unconventional style.

Nunez scored after Grbic cleared straight against him
Nunez scored after Grbic cleared straight against him (EPA)

If Darwin Nunez has spent much of his Liverpool career suggesting he could miss with any part of his anatomy, he instead scored with his thigh. A comical goal was nonetheless proof of the wholehearted endeavour which endears him to Klopp. A freak finish came courtesy of Ivo Grbic as Nunez charged down the goalkeeper’s clearance, it rebounded off him and careered past the keeper into the empty net.

And yet United’s leveller had a flukeish element too. Gustavo Hamer headed down James McAtee’s deep cross and it hit the unwitting Conor Bradley on the ankle to wrongfoot Caoimhin Kelleher. Even so, United had a counterattacking threat before then and, in Ben Brereton Diaz, a lively frontrunner.

They could have struck first with McAtee missing a chance after 30 seconds; the City loanee was instead to do his parent club a service later, aided by Hamer. Would Liverpool shoot themselves in the foot because of Bradley’s ankle? Ultimately not.

As Liverpool sought a winner, Grbic parried Virgil van Dijk’s header. Robertson volleyed just wide. The pressure became relentless. But applying pressure is one of Liverpool’s strengths. Their display was disjointed at times, frantic and full of shots, but the effort was unstinting. Ryan Gravenberch scarcely impressed on his first start since the Carabao Cup final. Salah almost scored with an early lob the backtracking Grbic tipped wide. Joe Gomez again almost scored a belated first goal of his career.

Some of the finishing was imprecise but Liverpool penned United in with their pressing and registered 83 per cent of possession. Meanwhile, Klopp tinkered to good effect.

Cody Gakpo, second left, scored late on after coming on as sub
Cody Gakpo, second left, scored late on after coming on as sub (Reuters)

First Robertson and Harvey Elliott came on, then Gakpo and a fit-again Curtis Jones. Liverpool ended with 29 shots and took their tally to 78 goals in 25 home games this season. The manager’s night finished with fist pumps in front of the Kop.

So it is Manchester United next, another game where Liverpool may live on their nerves, another test of their ability to win anywhere, any way, anyhow. They have eight games to go in the title race, eight wins to secure a fairytale farewell for Klopp. Pep Guardiola has pronounced them favourites. And if that seemed an attempt to confer pressure, it may have just been a reflection of the difference Mac Allister has been making. A player who plans to have a museum at home for his medals may need a section to celebrate his efforts in the Premier League.

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