A week is a long time in football.
s 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.
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.
The goal rattled Liverpool and when the ball struck Andy Robertson’s hand in the box, there was a danger that a second spot kick could be given against them.
That before McBurnie spurned a glorious chance to double Sheffield United’s lead as he closed in on goal, with Alisson then making a fine save as Ben Osborn blasted a shot towards his goal.
The champions were on the ropes and after surviving another Blades penalty appeal, they equaliser came against the run of play.
Sadio Mane latched onto a fine cross from Jordan Henderson after 41 minutes and when his header could only be parried by Aaron Ramsdale, Firmino was on hand to tap home a rare league goal at Anfield.
With Liverpool’s potent attacking unit showing signs of life in the closing stages of the second half, Klopp would have been hoping to see them turn on the style in the second half and yet it was Sheffield United who pushed to score the vital third goal in this game.
George Baldock went close with an early effort and there were some nerves in evidence as the untested pairing of Fabinho and Gomez looked unsettled with Berge leading the Sheffield United line superbly.
Mohamed Salah saw a goal ruled out as he was ruled to be narrowly off-side on a VAR decision and just two minutes later, Liverpool were ahead of Sadio Mane’s cross was headed home by Diogo Jota.
David McGoldrick was thrown on by Sheffield United as they looked to salvage what would have been a deserved point and he crashed an effort over the bar on the half-volley 14 minutes from time.
Salah so nearly scored a gem of a goal in the closing stages as he rolled Egan in the box before sticking an effort against the woodwork, as Liverpool extended their unbeaten Premier League record at Anfield to a remarkable 62 matches.
They are now just one behind the club’s all-time record set between 1978 and 1981 and yet there are questions surrounding Liverpool now that few were asking just a week ago.