Liverpool continue to contrive to find ways to win, and if some of them qualify as winning ugly, they will not mind. They required the assistance of an on-loan Manchester United player, but Dean Henderson’s error allowed them to make it seven successive victories this Premier League season – a distinction shared with Chelsea’s class of 2005-06 – and 16 in total.
They will be more exhilarating and more explosive but, in one respect, rarely more efficient. For 69 minutes, Liverpool had not mustered a shot on target. The first they did record was both tame and successful. Gini Wijnaldum’s drive was directed at Henderson. It was not the most forceful shot the Dutchman will ever strike but it trickled through the goalkeeper’s legs. Wijnaldum had not scored for his club since his brace against Barcelona and, if this will not be remembered for as long, it amounted to another significant contribution.
In the battle of the award winners – Jurgen Klopp was anointed Fifa’s Coach of the Year this week while Chris Wilder won the League Managers Association’s prize – it seemed as though the points would be shared, but the plaudits would go to Sheffield United.
But Liverpool benefited from some excruciating goalkeeping mistakes last season. Another brought them a hard-fought victory and while Henderson later made a terrific save from Mohamed Salah, the damage had been done.
This was not Liverpool at their most fluent. The chemistry was missing at times. Andy Robertson collided with Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip with Jordan Henderson. When Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Salah huddled over a free kick to hatch a plan, it only resulted in the right-back shooting way over the United goal.
When an extended impasse gave way to a flurry of chances, a man who is often prolific for Liverpool was profligate. Sadio Mane was guilty of a glaring miss, miscuing a half-volley wide after Virgil van Dijk released him with a chip over the United defence.
The Senegalese was annoyed Mohamed Salah did not pass to him at Burnley two weeks ago. This time Salah showed his selflessness even, if typically, Roberto Firmino linked the two. The Egyptian found the Brazilian. He picked out Mane, who tried to pick his spot but only hit the post.
United could reflect that, for swathes of the game, they looked the likelier scorers. If they camped behind the ball, defending with organisation and concentration, their isolated attacks came laced with menace. Oli McBurnie’s shot was too close to Adrian, Callum Robinson’s past his far post, but they were a menace on the break.
McBurnie headed over the bar with Adrian in no-man’s land. The goalkeeper fared better by parring Oliver Norwood’s dipping drive. When John Fleck closed in on goal, Robertson made a superb last-ditch challenge. The substitute Leon Clarke squandered a golden chance to equalise and if fortune favoured Liverpool, they made the most of it.
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