This gameweek in the Premier League, Liverpool will play against an opponent they do not have a lot of familiarity with. The Reds travel to Sheffield to play Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Saturday for the early noon kickoff, something they have done only thrice in the Premier League era.
If someone had told the Sheffield United fans that after six games, their side will be sitting 10th with draws against Bournemouth and Chelsea and wins against Crystal Palace and Everton, they would have been laughed at. But that is exactly where the Blades find themselves. Last gameweek they dismantled Everton with some smart attacking and solid defending. Although they were dumped out of League Cup by Sunderland on Wednesday, they are proving their mettle in the league. They are not dependent on one or two stars but the whole team is pitching in this season – all seven of their league goals thus far in the campaign have been scored by different players. Manager Chris Wilder will be hoping that one of those players can increase their overall tally or a couple of new goalscorers emerge to trouble the guests on Saturday.
Liverpool have been on a roll domestically. Of their eight domestic games, including Community Shield, the Reds have won 7. They come into this game after beating Chelsea 0-2 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday in the league and then beating MK Dons in the league cup with a largely second-string XI. They sit at the top of the league table, 5 points clear of the Champions Manchester City and this early kickoff on Saturday gives them a good opportunity to pile pressure on Pep’s men who do not play Everton till a few hours later on Saturday. Klopp will hope that his side can take this opportunity without too much difficulty.
- Sheffield United have been infrequent Premier League participants but when they have participated, it has been tough for Liverpool to win at Bramall Lane. The Reds have never won a Premier League match at Bramall Lane in three attempts (W0 D2 L1) going back to 1992, 1993, and 2006. In fact, Bramall Lane is one of only three grounds that Liverpool have played at without winning in the Premier League along with Nottingham Forest’s city Ground (five games) and Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road (one game).
- But in the current campaign, Liverpool are flying high. They are unbeaten in 23 Premier League game, winning the last 15 in a row. Only between March 1987 and March 1988 have they had a longer unbeaten run (31 games) in their top-flight history.
- In fact, Liverpool have won their last 12 Premier League matches against newly promoted sides, scoring 35 goals and conceding just four. The last team to have a longer winning run against newly promoted teams were Spurs – winning 16 consecutive such games between 2015 and 2018.
- But the Blades are a tough opponent to beat at home. They have not lost three consecutive home games since February 2013. The last time they lost three in a row at home in the top-flight was way back in 1990.
The Blades’ website describes the 25 year old O’Connell as a rock and he has indeed been a proverbial defensive rock for them since he joined them in the summer before they began thein rapid ascent up to the top-flight from League One. As a defender he is in the same mould as other defenders from lower-half or promoted teams. Good at clearing the ball away from danger zones (6.3 clearances per game), good at intercepting (just under 2 per game) and can block the odd shot (4 in 6 games). In his last game at Goodison Park, O’Connell put in 16 clearances, 2 interceptions and one block to make sure his team returned with three points and a clean sheet. He also wins 2/3rds of his aerial duels. This also means that he is the key target for Sheffield United, during attacking set pieces. If the Blades are to put up any sort of fight against Liverpool, O’Connell will have to be in top form on Saturday.
Salah is going to play against a new opposition and he loves to score against most of the teams he faces. Sheffield will be the 24th different side that Salah has faced with Liverpool and he has scored against 21 of the previous 23 opponents. By his own standards, he has been subdued recently. He got an assist for setting the ball in play for Trent’s goal against Chelsea but his xG and xA for that game were merely 0.10 and 0.05 respectively, much lower than his xG90 and xA90 of 0.57and 0.21 respectively. His expected contribution stats suggest that the Egyptian can be counted on to step up for Jurgen Klopp’s men at Bramall Lane.
For the Blades, Billy Sharp completes a three-match suspension this weekend. Chris Wilder otherwise has a full squad to pick from on Saturday. However, David McGoldrick is a major doubt after tweaking his groin in the build up to last weekend’s match, which should see Oliver McBurnie and Callum Robinson start up front. Wilder fielded a largely changed side against Sunderland in the League Cup on Wednesday, which means that he will field his usual starting lineup on Saturday. The likely lineup for Sheffield United Henderson; Baldock, Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Stevens; Norwood, Lundstram, Fleck; Robinson, McBurnie..
For Liverpool, Naby Keita made his comeback from injury in the win against MK Dons in the League Cup on Wednesday night. However, Klopp too fielded a highly rotated side in the midweek fixture, allowing him to start with his usual starting XI on Saturday. In more positive news, Alisson is closing in on a return from injury but will not be ready for Saturday’s trip to Sheffield. The likely lineup for Liverpool could be – Adrian; Gomez, Matip, van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Henderson; Mane, Firmino, Salah.
Even if Chris Wilder has won more English league games (125) and earned more points (425) than any other manager in the top-four tiers of English football since 2014-15, his side face a vastly confident team that is bent on chasing glory. And they are led by the FIFA Best Men’s Coach of the year in Jurgen Klopp. The Blades might create resistances but Liverpool should be able to overcome them.
Sheffield United 0 – 3 Liverpool