If the derby last week carried the charge of VARicide, then this game could be indicted on the lesser, attempted version of the same. The penalty awarded to Sheffield United was downright ridiculous; not only because from every angle of the replay, it was simply not a foul in the first place, but also because to then award a penalty for the supposed shoelace of the attacking player (I forget who) being on the outside of the line surrounding the box amounted to prosecutorial misconduct at its finest. Sander Berge converted it coolly nonetheless, and suddenly the Blades were one up, completely against the run of play.
It also seemed to take the wind out of Liverpool’s sails.
It was hard to play against Chris Wilder’s team last season, and it seemed just as difficult today, even if their results to this point in the season do not do them any justice. They frustrated the Reds, constantly seeking to disrupt the merseysiders’ sometimes elaborate and oftentimes overly ambitious play – and then to pounce. It almost worked, and that it didn’t can be put down to luck (and a bit of Alisson, although he at one point almost gifted them a goal which led me to scream “AGAIN?!” loudly enough to get all the dogs barking excitedly at the imagined threat).
Still, seeing that this was Anfield, Liverpool were not about to leave the pitch goalless, and when the first one came, it felt like it was almost out of nowhere. Mane’s powerful header on a pinpoint cross from the right found Ramsdale up to the task of parrying it, unfortunately right to Firmino who finally netted his season’s first. That it happened at Anfield matters as well, and the awkward way he twisted his body in meeting the ball to ensure that it met the back of the net was, as much as anything, a clear indication of how much he wanted it. Then VAR got involved and I was sure they would chalk this one off as well, maybe because Bobby’s halo was offside, but ultimately even they could find nothing wrong with the goal and the teams went into halftime at one apiece.
VAR did call off a brilliant Salah goal in the second half, possibly due to a loosely trimmed beard, but a couple of minutes later Diogo Jota was again in the right place at the right time and Mane found him with an even pinpointer cross to make it two for the home side. It was in front of the Kop, and it just hurt my heart for Jota not to have the merseyside horde there to meet and greet him after his emphatic header. Jota is still acclimating to the way Liverpool plays, and sometimes he still gets in everybody’s way, but it has to be admitted that his adjustment is far more rapid than, say, Takumi Minamino’s or even, for that matter, Naby Keita’s.
All that remained was to close out the game, and in that sense, you can also certainly chalk up the win to the efforts of my man-of-the-match, one Joseph Gomez. He may not be the attacking threat that Virgil is, but he was absolutely rock solid in the backline, and Liverpool should thank him for not dropping two or even three points at Anfield today. Let’s just hope that he doesn’t get injured again.
In the end, another job well done, in what turned out to be a scrappy affair that needed a bit of luck to overcome the machinations of the crew at Stockley Park. I’m not sure if one could say that they outdid themselves today with that penalty call, or even counting Harry Maguire’s friendly tap’n’kiss on Cesar Azpilicueta in the United-Chelsea game – they have already set a remarkably low standard under which it is going to be extremely difficult to crawl.
The job is to win even in the face of these VARsimilitudes. And like Liverpool did today, Champions can – and do.