Dominik Szoboszlai seals Liverpool win but Sheffield United find steel

<span>Photograph: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC/Getty Images

This was never going to be a game which defined Sheffield United’s Premier League survival hopes but, on the night one of their favourite sons returned to the Bramall Lane dugout, it felt like something on which to build. Victory against a Liverpool side firmly in the title race never felt remotely likely given how, on Saturday, United were humiliated at Burnley in a game that resulted in Paul Heckingbottom’s sacking.

The result was the one most expected, with goals from Virgil van Dijk and Dominik Szoboszlai moving Liverpool to within two points of Arsenal at the top. But the manner of performance from the league’s bottom side will have given all those associated with the club hope for what lies ahead. Granted, Jürgen Klopp’s side were not at their best, but this was a United display filled with endeavour and commitment.

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They will have to replicate it in a devilish run of fixtures this month which includes meetings with Chelsea, Aston Villa and Manchester City to keep in the mix at the bottom.

“I’m proud but it can’t be a one‑off,” Wilder said. “We can’t just have the new manager bounce. We asked the question of Liverpool, we made it a difficult game and I’m a little disappointed we’ve not got a result out of it.”

The hallmark of title contenders – not being at their best but still finding a way to win – was very much evident for Liverpool. They controlled large swathes of the game but lacked the cutting edge to which fans have become accustomed. That said, when Van Dijk opened the scoring as half‑time approached, you wondered if that would break United’s spirit and open the proverbial floodgates for Liverpool. That never materialised, with Szoboszlai only assuring victory in the final seconds with a cool finish.

That meant they remain two points adrift at the top of the Premier League and firmly in the title picture as Christmas approaches. This wasn’t vintage Liverpool by any stretch but nights such as these, with the narrative so firmly framed against them in the midst of a hectic fixture pile‑up, can so often be the undoing of a side. The fact Klopp’s team passed the test underlined just what his players are capable of.

“I’m really pleased with the result,” Klopp said. “I’m pleased with a lot of aspects of the game. I know we can play better football but at this time of the year you play, hopefully win, recover and play again.” His side have barely any time to recover, though, with the early kick-off on Saturday next, a trip to Crystal Palace. On the night when Klopp confirmed Joël Matip had ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament and will likely be out for the season, it was perhaps no surprise he appeared to take a swipe at the scheduling.

“That’s unfortunately what I expected from the first second,” Klopp said of Matip’s injury on Prime Video. “You can say what you want but I cannot say what I want because that would be really difficult.”

United certainly had their chances on the counter in a lively first half before the opening goal arrived. James McAtee was denied by a smart Caoimhin Kelleher save after Joe Gomez was dispossessed on halfway, before Cameron Archer was freed on goal.

However, the forward took too long over his shot and was blocked by Van Dijk, who then volleyed home the opener six minutes later with a finish of which any of Liverpool’s front three would have been proud.

But the expected onslaught from the visitors after half-time simply did not materialise. Wes Foderingham produced a wonderful stop to prevent Mohamed Salah on the volley, but that was the closest they came for a good while. Their opponents played their part in keeping things tense, too, with Wilder’s side offering plenty of hope they could potentially snatch an equaliser.

In the end, though, their profligacy came back to haunt them in injury time as Darwin Núñez’s pinpoint cross was met by Szoboszlai, who calmly converted past Foderingham to secure the win. It was nervy, but it was ultimately job done for the visitors. At a time of the year when the fixtures come thick and fast, perhaps that is all you can ask for on nights such as these.