Neil Atkinson’s post-match review for The Anfield Wrap after Liverpool 3 Sheffield United 1 in the 2023-2024 Premier League season…


THE job is winning.

Not wracking up scorelines. Not even putting a show on. Certainly not Joe Gomez scoring. But winning.

The Big Nine begins with its most straightforward game and Liverpool make it look and feel like anything but.

It’s strange that they get dragged into one but they do. The goal to go 2-1 comes at exactly the moment concern begins to genuinely bubble and its brilliance almost makes it feel like it counts double.

The nature of the scorer makes it feel like it counts double too. Alexis Mac Allister is player of the match. He fights, and he battles, and he defends, and he carries, and he scores an absolute screamer. Match-winning performance.

Not the first Mac Allister in a red shirt to carry The Reds out of a hole. Not the first midfielder to come to the boil in a run-in. There are massive Jan Molby 1986 vibes from all of this and Steven Gerrard vibes from the strike.

The hole, though, is this: Sheffield United have been practising defensive formations whilst eating breakfast, lunch and dinner for the past year in preparation for this game.

First half, they are determined to grind the life and exuberance out of Liverpool. Give us all the possession and none of the space. In response, we slow down. We take time to work it out. They let us come at them and come at them. Rope-a-dope.

Playing dead sounds harsh. It sounds like a moral judgement and, when Manchester United come to Anfield, it sort of is.

But not for Sheffield United. They work out their best way home is to be frustrating, but not too frustrating, don’t throw mad tackles in, don’t engage the crowd or the Liverpool players, just try and minimise everything, minimise the occasion.

Liverpool have 83 (eighty three) per cent possession. They are almost never not in possession of the football. How – in the first half, especially – this doesn’t result in more goals is a matter of screaming frustration. But – thankfully – after the equaliser just a matter of screaming and as we know that sort of thing is the greatest soundtrack.

When Darwin Nunez bullies Grbic in the Sheffield United goal, and tricks him into letting one in the back of the net on the 17th minute, it is an oddly brilliant moment in an otherwise frustrating period. Liverpool’s slowness makes it harder to create chances and increases risks defensively when we need to take attacking risks.

Perhaps the argument is it needs to be different, but it sort of doesn’t now; there are only four home games left with this manager. Let’s get them out of the way and worry about it later with the next chap.

But the other thing is – it becomes different. The best thing about the team news was the bench. It looked like a proper bench and tonight was the first time in a while where Klopp was able to keep twisting without ever looking like going bust.

All four subs are marvellous. There is a shift of personnel in terms of Joe Gomez and lastly a shift of shape to 4-4-2. Andy Robertson and Cody Gakpo link for the winner, Harvey Elliott is again marvellous, and Curtis Jones looks like he hasn’t been away.

This offers Liverpool exactly the sort of variance which will tire Chris Wilder’s brave crew. Making footballers think again, and again, and again can do as much to knock legs as to run and run. But Liverpool do both. Efforts redouble when they need to and in the end The Reds get what they deserve.

They looked unscathed too, though, we will find out on Ibou Konate in despatches. We do indeed need them all for everything that is to come. We need options and changes, and bravery, and speed.

We need to stay focused and stay positive, need to not get ratty, but remain needly. There is an odd determination to talk down the league leaders, but we are the crew in possession.

One down. Eight to go. Sunday is massive, is everything, is another opportunity to make our point – we’re never going to stop.

The job is to keep winning and Alexis Mac Allister’s Reds need to keep probing, keep twisting, keep finding new angles and new ideas. They can’t hit a moving target and, at 2-1, Liverpool were precisely the sort of moving target they failed to be at 1-0.

Eight to go. I might want a quiet life here and there, but they don’t.

Eight to go. Eight more emotional rollercoasters Liverpool will find a way to create.

“Life without emotions. Imagine that. How boring it would be.” – Jürgen Klopp.

Go on, big man. Eight more, then.

We’re in it all the way.


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