Liverpool have specialised in creating history in recent years but there could be a sense of relief they did not make more. The prospect of a fifth straight league defeat, a fate they had not suffered since 1953, loomed as long as Aaron Ramsdale produced an inspired performance to underpin Sheffield United’s committed one. But once Curtis Jones struck, Liverpool could start to savour the winning feeling and Kean Bryan’s own goal ensured the last match of February brought Liverpool’s first points.
Triumphs against the bottom club are rarely as welcome but the champions have at least revived their quest to qualify for the Champions League. “We needed the points to get in contact with the teams above us so it was very important,” Jürgen Klopp said. “It’s normal that we’re criticised. Plenty of people have written us off; that’s fine. With all the problems we have had we’re still around the exciting places.”
It was a fitting way for Klopp to mark the 20th anniversary of his managerial bow, a victory for Mainz over Duisburg. Jones made for an appropriate scorer, too. A player who was four weeks old when Klopp first tasted success in the dugout has been Liverpool’s best midfielder in recent weeks and, in troubled times, salvation came from two of their own. Liverpudlians combined for the breakthrough with Trent Alexander-Arnold, whose excellent crossing was an indication he is returning to his best, providing a terrific supply line.
There was a hint of surprise Jones scored, however, and not merely because Ramsdale was saving everything. On a night when three other goals were chalked off, there was no question about Jones’ emphatic finish but Liverpool’s muted celebrations betrayed their doubts that Alexander-Arnold had kept the ball in before his cross flicked off Phil Jagielka. “It goes down to the finest of margins with VAR,” said Alexander-Arnold. Even he was not sure while Klopp was among those who initially thought the ball was out, but the manager was delighted with the scorer: “There is a lot more to come from Curtis, his potential is exceptional. He has to be involved more in goalscoring situations.”
The second goal also required a deflection, costing Firmino a seventh of the season but sending the ball flying over Ramsdale. The Brazilian had exchanged one-twos with first the irrepressible Jones and then Sadio Mané before his shot looped up off Bryan. Klopp nevertheless gave Firmino the goal. “For him, it counts, if it’s not in the stats, I don’t care,” he said.
Ramsdale was luckless. He has floundered more often than he has flourished since taking over from Dean Henderson in goal but this was a performance worthy of his popular predecessor. He made five superb first-half saves, starting when Firmino was clean through. He then tipped away Andy Robertson’s misdirected cross before Firmino released Mohamed Salah with a flick and the keeper made a terrific save. He rescued Ethan Ampadu after the defender presented the ball to Alexander-Arnold, whose rising shot he tipped over, and denied Gini Wijnaldum. “Ramsdale played an incredible game,” said Klopp. “But we played super football and created super chances.”
If he was exaggerating when he said Robertson could have had a hat-trick, Liverpool’s relentlessness always rendered a goal likely. “When we could play like we wanted to play, they couldn’t deal with us,” Klopp said. He had no need to rue a glaring miss from Salah, who was found by the energetic Robertson.
There was something cathartic about Liverpool’s clean sheet too. They were reduced to their third-choice goalkeeper and minus their five preferred options at centre-back. Yet if Adrián’s season may forever be remembered for the 7-2 defeat at Aston Villa, he excelled standing in for Alisson, who was absent for compassionate reasons after the death of his father. Adrián began with a point-blank block from David McGoldrick’s header and bookended his performance with a last-minute save from Oliver Burke.
Meanwhile, Ozan Kabak’s difficult start to life at Anfield seemed encapsulated when he accidentally beat Adrián to put the ball in his own net. He was fortunate that Oli McBurnie was flagged offside then, but made a redemptive, perfectly timed challenge on the Scotland striker later. Alongside him, Nat Phillips impressed but Liverpool’s 18th centre-back partnership of the season may face a stiffer test against Chelsea on Thursday.
It was a sadly familiar tale for United: often beaten, rarely thrashed. “Sheffield United have lost a lot but all by the smallest margin,” sympathised Klopp. McBurnie missed a fine opportunity to equalise but United are now 15 points from safety. “We haven’t taken chances that have come to us,” Chris Wilder said. “The two goals we conceded were really disappointing. There in a nutshell is our season.”