Liverpool vs. Sheffield United
Venue: Anfield Stadium
Kick off: 8PM
Premier League champions Liverpool welcome Sheffield United to Anfield this evening looking to return to winning ways in the top flight.
Jurgen Klopp’s side were held to a contentious 2-2 draw by Everton in the Merseyside derby last weekend, but will be heavy favourites to beat a Sheffield United side with only one point to their name so far.
There is no doubt that last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Everton left a bitter taste in the mouth – not only because of the result but also because of the feeling of injustice which accompanied it, both in terms of the injuries suffered and the manner in which their late ‘winner’ was subsequently disallowed.
Liverpool bounced back in the best way possible with victory in midweek, though, as a scrappy own goal saw them make a winning start to their Champions League campaign away to Ajax.
While the result is always the most important thing, the significance of keeping a clean sheet without Virgil van Dijk, Alisson Becker or Joel Matip will also not be lost on Klopp at a time when so many questions are being asked regarding how the Reds will cope without the former in particular.
For the first time since January 2018, Liverpool will be missing Van Dijk for a Premier League game this weekend, and so the performance of Fabinho as an emergency centre-back will have calmed fears in a timely manner.
The champions will be expected to have enough to beat Sheffield United even without arguably their most important player, particularly at home where they are unbeaten in 61 league games, winning 27 of their last 28, including both so far this season.
Today will be Liverpool’s first home league game in almost a month, and plenty has happened since that 3-1 triumph over Arsenal – most notably their 7-2 defeat to Aston Villa and last weekend’s derby draw.
It took the Reds until gameweek 28 to drop four points last season, and should they fail to win again this weekend then it would be the first time since May 2018 that they have gone three Premier League matches in a row without winning.
Liverpool’s recent defensive record, even with Van Dijk available, gives any visiting team a glimmer of hope, though, with Klopp’s side conceding a joint-league high 13 goals so far this season.
Indeed, since clinching the Premier League title last term, the Reds have shipped a league-high 25 goals in their 12 top-flight outings, having taken 38 matches to concede their previous 25 before that.
Most would expect the absence of Van Dijk to only exacerbate that problem, although Liverpool could hardly wish for a better opponent to face than Sheffield United in the circumstances.
The Blades have scored just twice in their five games this season – the fewest of any team in the division – and are the only team in the top flight yet to have been leading a match at any stage so far in 2020-21.
Chris Wilder’s side needed a late Billy Sharp penalty to rescue a point at home to fellow strugglers Fulham last time out – a disappointing result but one which at least ended a seven-game losing streak and got them off the mark for the season.
Things do not get any easier either; after Liverpool, Sheffield United face Manchester City and Chelsea in a daunting build-up to the next international break.
The most difficult test, on paper at least, appears to be this one first up, with Sheffield United having lost 19 of their last 23 top-flight visits to Anfield and last winning away to Liverpool in 1994.
The Blades have also lost 16 of their last 17 away games against the reigning top-flight champions – the exception coming in 1971-72 – and are without a Premier League win against any opposition on the road since February 1.
Indeed, Wilder’s side have only won one of their last 12 top-flight away games since Christmas, netting only five goals in that time and never more than once in a game.
Liverpool possible XI: Adrian, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Fabinho, Robertson, Thiago, Henderson, Keita, Salah, Firmino, Mane.
Sheffield United possible XI: Ramsdale, Basham, Ampadu, Egan; Baldock, Lundstram, Norwood, Berge, Stevens, McBurnie, Brewster.