Thursday, October 1, 2020

Firmino, Salah, Mane fail to inspire as Henderson clanger bails out Reds

SoccerNews in English Premier League 28 Sep 2019

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Liverpool had become so accustomed to subjugating their opponents in the first half of matches this term – after all, before Saturday they had led at half-time in each Premier League game in 2019-20.

Yet, in Chris Wilder’s intriguingly assembled Sheffield United, they found a side able to out-scrap the Reds’ famed front three, an unfortunate calamity ultimately denying them a credible and deserved point.

The Blades’ so-called ‘overlapping centre-backs’ have drawn plenty of praise already this term and at times in the first half it was easy to see why, with Chris Basham, John Egan and Jack O’Connell all taking it turns to charge forward to good effect.

Even on such occasions, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane still struggled to exploit any increased space in a curiously laboured outing from the trio.

The only time the Reds’ key men managed to combine before the break came in the 43rd minute – Salah getting a lucky ricochet and then feeding Firmino, who overcomplicated the play by setting up Mane instead of shooting. The post came to United’s rescue, the finish unimpressive.

In the first period, Salah had 22 touches, Firmino 24 and Mane 30. Only Adrian had fewer on the Liverpool team.

Their ineffectiveness served to highlight a creativity void in Liverpool’s midfield, with Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho doing little to lay on opportunities.

Liverpool’s centre-backs appeared more threatening from that perspective.

Virgil van Dijk’s gorgeous lofted pass over the defence just past the half-hour mark picked out Mane, but he inexplicably sliced wide with just Dean Henderson to beat, while Joel Matip enjoyed a few surging runs through the centre.

United’s display was every bit as impressive as Liverpool’s was underwhelming, however.

Wilder had blasted his side’s performance in the 2-0 win over Everton last week as their worst of the season – they certainly appeared desperate to leave no stone unturned in their quest to beat the European champions.

There was to be no preparing for Dean Henderson’s moment to forget, though, as the on-loan Manchester United goalkeeper allowed Wijnaldum’s scrappy effort through his legs 20 minutes from time.

It was a crushing quirk of fate, with Liverpool scarcely deserving the lead.

The Blades had looked the more creative of the two sides for much of the second period, with John Fleck’s ability on the ball causing Liverpool’s midfield numerous problems – the finishing touch just eluded them, however, as Van Dijk produced another strong performance at the back.

Some pundits this season had been ridiculed for suggesting Liverpool were over-reliant on three players – a bizarre criticism considering many of the world’s best sides are often accused of relying on just a single star player.

However, a midfield creator would have benefited Liverpool at Bramall Lane – fortunately for them fortune smiled on the Reds, allowing them to win seven successive Premier League matches at the start of the season for the first time.

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