Salah keeps Reds on course to end three decades of pain

A year to the day since Liverpool last tasted defeat, in a reverse to Manchester City that effectively cost them the league title, Mohamed Salah helped ensure his team remained firmly on course to put that matter right in 2020.

Salah keeps Reds on course to end three decades of pain

A year to the day since Liverpool last tasted defeat, in a reverse to Manchester City that effectively cost them the league title, Mohamed Salah helped ensure his team remained firmly on course to put that matter right in 2020.

The intervening 12 months have made sure that such memories — Liverpool losing in the league — now feel as if they belong to a by-gone era, so rare is it to see Jurgen Klopp’s side in anything other than cruise control.

Manchester United, of course, remain the only side to have taken so much as a point from Klopp’s team this season, in a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford that, in retrospect, looks like the best performance of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s increasingly dismal reign in charge.

And, as the European champions re-established a 13-point lead over their former manager Brendan Rodgers and Leicester City, it was hard to see how even the most superstitious and cautious Liverpool supporter is not already counting down towards an inevitable end to their 30-year wait for a title.

One more league victory, at Spurs a week on Saturday, and Liverpool would need to haemorrhage a point per game over the remainder of the season to lose the crown — and, even then, Rodgers or Pep Guardiola would be required to inspire their teams to victory in every one of their remaining games.

Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk speaking to BT Sport after the game said: “We just focus on the next game ahead of us. Sheffield United are a great side. We prepared very well. It showed on the pitch.

“It was good football at times. We were calm, composed and yeah, it was a good victory.

“It’s very important [to keep clean sheets]. It’s something good for us as defenders but also for the team. When we keep a clean sheet it gives us a big chance to win the game as we have so much quality up front. It gives us confidence.”

If Liverpool’s critics will point to some good fortune supposedly enjoyed by the Reds — not least, according to the conspiracy theorists in the area of VAR— then Klopp and his team have to be applauded for taking every piece of adversity thrown their way in their stride.

Last night it came in the form of an injury suffered by Naby Keita, hurt in the pre-match warm-up and replaced by evergreen veteran James Milner. If that loss offered the Blades the lightest flicker of hope, it was to be extinguished in cruel fashion after just four minutes.

It was the result of a rare unforced error by Chris Wilder’s defence although, given the technical expertise of the Liverpool players involved in the goal, even if George Baldock had not slipped, it would have been a difficult ask to defend the attack.

Virgil van Dijk’s long through ball from defence floated over Baldock, who slipped in the process, allowing Andy Robertson to continue his sprint down the left wing. The full-back delivered the perfect cross for Salah, who had ghosted fractionally ahead of Jack O’Connell, to turn the ball in from eight yards.

An Anfield which had been simmering nicely pre-game and over the opening seconds, erupted and Sheffield, such a welcome addition to their lofty new surroundings over the first half of the season, were in trouble.

They responded superbly, however. Within seconds, influential midfielder John Lundstram had lofted a dangerous-looking shot just wide of the home goal before David McGoldrick shot straight at Alisson from 18 yards.

But this was a stern test for a Blades side that was so unlucky in defeat to Manchester City on Sunday and their signature three-man central defensive line-up was coming under unaccustomed pressure.

John Egan was the next defender to discover how hard it can be to keep track of Salah inside the penalty area, as Jordan Henderson whipped in a perfect cross which the Egyptian met with a crisp 12-yard strike that Dean Henderson did superbly well to claw out of the top corner of his goal.

Lundstram broke the spell of pressure by “scoring” an equaliser although from such a blatant offside position that Liverpool had stopped play and the respite was soon over as Sadio Mane squared the ball for Georginio Wijnaldum whose curling shot never possessed the necessary dip to find the target.

Leicester, in a 1-1 draw nearly 12 months ago, were the last team to snatch even a point in a league game at Anfield and, with the prize of that elusive league crown edging ever closer, every home game is taking on a sense of urgency and occasion.

The Kop certainly sensed that, urging on their heroes and almost willing the ball into the goal at the opposite end of the stadium when Milner came within millimetres of heading in Trent Alexander-Arnold’s near-post ball.

Mane’s deft touch set up Salah for a shot, again well saved by Henderson at the cost of a corner, and as the pressure built Liverpool’s Henderson almost beat his namesake with a shot that was deflected narrowly wide.

The contest might have been over in the opening moments of the second half,as Robertson’s inviting free-kick floated beyond a group of red shirts, and the far post.

Roberto Firmino followed suit with a powerful hit from the corner of the area, which flew past the diving Henderson and just wide of the Sheffield goal.

Goalkeeper Henderson, whose error in the first meeting between these teams gifted Liverpool the win, was almost guilty of another error on the hour when Salah’s 25-yard shot bounced awkwardly and he stood rooted, watching the ball hit his post and bounce into his arms.

It hardly mattered. Four minutes later, as United pressed, Liverpool broke. Salah played Mane clear of the defence and, after Henderson had made a brave and solid block, the Senegal striker simply had to recover and jog over to push the ball into an open net.

There was time for Henderson to make further good saves, to keep out Salah and Mane, although United substitute Oli McBurnie should have made the last five minutes interesting, only to steer a shot straight at Alisson from virtually on the Liverpool goalline.

LIVERPOOl (4-3-3): Alisson 6; Alexander-Arnold 7, Gomez 7, van Dijk 7, Robertson 8 (Lallana 88); Milner 6, J Henderson 8, Wijnaldum 7; Salah 9 (Elliott 90), Firmino 7, Mane 8 (Origi 77, 6).

SHEFFIELD UNITED (3-5-2): D Henderson 8; Basham 6, Egan 6, O’Connell 6; Baldock 5, Lundtsram 7, Norwood 6 (Besic 77, 6), Fleck 6, Stevens 5; McGoldrick 6 (Sharp 66, 6), Mousset 5 (McBurnie 65, 6).

Referee: Paul Tierney 8

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