Klopp switches system & even VAR can’t deny Reds – 5 talking points from Liverpool 2-1 Sheffield United

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Liverpool returned to Premier League action at Anfield with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Sheffield United on Saturday night.

Liverpool 2-1 Sheffield United

Premier League (6), Anfield
October 24, 2020

Goals: Firmino 41′, Jota 64′; Berge pen 13′


Ali back, Jota in

Liverpool's Diogo Jota celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game with Trent Alexander-Arnold (second right) and Roberto Firmino (right) during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. (Image: Peter Byrne/PA Wire/PA Images)

A switch to 4-2-3-1 hasn’t been unexpected given the injuries throughout the team at present, but the one surprising aspect of it here was seeing Diogo Jota in on the right.

It kept the rest of the forward line in their usual roles, perhaps, but left the Portuguese attacker on the opposite side of the pitch to where he has proven impactful for the Reds and effective for Portugal.

Out on that side he was actually more in the way than a helpful outlet, taking the space that Trent wanted to stand high in rather than being a narrower link player in the way Mane was on the left.

Jota’s best moments earlier on came when either countering through the middle or the times he swapped out to the left wing for a few minutes at a time; later as the Reds started to dominate and the Blades tired, he proved more adept at quickly covering ground on the ball, beating players one-on-one over five yards…and, apparently, being an aerial target in the six-yard box!

As for Alisson, this was a far quicker return than was expected – the Man City game before the international break had been suggested as his early comeback.

He wasn’t tested at all before a penalty was put past him, but he soon had to make a strong save from a Ben Osborn volley and make a few punches clear through a crowd.

Thankfully there appeared no impairment on his game from the injury and no rustiness in his game overall – save, perhaps, for a heavy touch which saw him closed down near the hour mark.


Very Annoying Replays

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 12, 2020: Liverpool’s Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' during the opening FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leeds United FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. Liverpool won 4-3. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Are we just pissing about with being ‘professionals’ at this point?

The ref gives a free-kick, the VAR overrules it and says it was a penalty as the foul was on the line (thus inside the box) – then a statement is released clarifying that although the placement was checked, the actual foul wasn’t.

And Fabinho appeared to quite cleanly and clearly win the ball.

Are they genuinely making it more difficult for themselves to be seen as competent, reasonable people? Is it just a question of how much nonsense can we fit in any given weekend?

How is it that such defining decisions are constantly given wrong, or at the very least flying in the face of all logic and apparent viewing ability? We have three trillion cameras in Premier League games – why rely on about three from stupid angles and of questionable frame rates?

If the insistence is going to be on letting nonsense decisions stand and employing those who don’t know or follow through on all the rules, we might as well have PMGOL save some wages and just crowdsource VAR calls on Twitter with a one-minute vote.


Temporarily stifled stars of the attack

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 24, 2020: Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino (L) celebrates with team-mate Mohamed Salah (R) after the equalising goal from a rebound to level the score at 1-1 during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Sheffield United FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

Those who are familiar with watching the Reds regularly – most of us, in other words – can probably tell within about 15 minutes of kick-off how the game is going to go in terms of the attack.

Sometimes we’re lightning, not just in terms of pace but in moving the ball, exchanging the passes in the final third, showing the off-the-ball movement which has been a hallmark of the front three and which teams struggle to cope with.

Sometimes, it’s…none of the above.

Against the Blades it was definitely the latter, the type of game where Liverpool have to really work hard to find spaces, earn the chance to create openings and almost play themselves into form because there’s no movement and pace early on.

The first half was pretty much a static line of four up front, which made it easy for the Blades to see off our build-up play, but from about 55 minutes onwards it was far, far better – and, inevitably, the away side eventually couldn’t cope.

Either way, either start, the outcome is often a Liverpool win – it’s just frustrating and difficult to watch for the initial period of struggle, precisely because we know what the Reds are really capable of.


Coping at the back

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 24, 2020: Liverpool’s Joe Gomez challenges for a header with Sheffield United's Oliver McBurnie during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Sheffield United FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

Rugged, aggressive and determined against Ajax, the Reds weren’t always the most refined in Europe but kept a clean sheet.

Here that was denied them by the early penalty, but thereafter there were further examples of the same committed, if slightly less cool and authoritative, performances in the defensive line.

A few passes were wide of the mark, a few times the centre-backs were caught slow in possession (plus Alisson‘s moment being closed down), but by and large, they defended well against ex-Red Brewster and the beast from the north McBurnie.

Oli Burke gave a few late problems as sub with his pace, but the defence did largely well on the night.

More interesting was Klopp’s switch to a double-pivot midfield; this didn’t really give the platform of protection we might have expected, as the Hendo-Gini partnership didn’t really work in tandem, their passing wasn’t great and the movement ahead of them wasn’t there early on to allow them a constant out-ball.

More work ahead in that regard, but it’s good to see the tactical flexibility of the squad come into play.


Straight back into Europe

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 24, 2020: Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino (L) scores the equalising goal from a rebound to level the score at 1-1 during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Sheffield United FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

No time to rest or ponder too much about the positives and otherwise from the game – it’s now another day or two of recovery and straight onto Champions League action.

Danish side FC Midtjylland lie in wait and the Reds will expect nothing less than six points from two European games.

Jurgen Klopp made a big deal out of making five subs midweek against Ajax, three of them at once, saying he would have to do so whenever given the chance because of the relentless fixture list – so it was a little odd he opted against changes until very late on here.

Rotations can probably be expected in midweek and one or two of the fringe players might get their chance from the start in a meaningful match – and after this win, it will be reinforced to the squad that great performances are terrific, but the win-at-all-costs mentality from last season is the most fundamental aspect of being in the side.

Onwards to another Anfield fixture, and another three points.

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