Report and free match highlights as Szoboszlai adds to Van Dijk's first-half volley as Liverpool close gap to Premier League leaders Arsenal back to two points; bottom club Sheffield United still four points from safety but showed signs of encouragement under returning boss Chris Wilder
Thursday 7 December 2023 06:09, UK
Liverpool beat Sheffield United 2-0 in Chris Wilder's first game back in charge of the Blades to close the gap on Premier League leaders Arsenal to two points.
Bottom-placed Sheffield United remain four points from safety but will take encouragement from their first performance of Wilder's second stint as head coach, which saw them frustrate Liverpool for long periods either side of Virgil van Dijk's goal and before Dominik Szoboszlai added late gloss.
The Dutchman volleyed in his first strike of the season from a Trent Alexander-Arnold corner on 37 minutes after his marker Anel Ahmedhodzic tumbled. A VAR check cleared the goal and it set Liverpool on course for victory on a night where they had long spells of possession but struggled to carve out clear-cut openings against a reorganised home side.
It wasn't until the 94th minute that Szoboszlai eventually added a second, converting after sub Darwin Nunez had won the ball back from Jayden Bogle with a challenge which left the home side complaining but VAR again unmoved.
Sheffield United keeper Wes Foderingham had denied Nunez from a one-on-one and earlier kept out a stinging volley from Mohamed Salah but Liverpool never really got out of second gear with their attacking play.
With Sheffield United failing to seriously test Caoimhin Kelleher beyond a dangerous break which led to James McAtee's shot in the first half, a valuable three points were secured on a night when Liverpool weren't at their best.
There was a scare for the visitors just before Szoboszlai's goal when Ibrahima Konate shoved McAtee over in the box but with referee Simon Hooper and VAR not interested, Jurgen Klopp's men keep pace with Arsenal in the title race.
Afterwards, Wilder was adamant his side should have had a penalty and Liverpool's second shouldn't have counted.
"The two-handed push on McAtee? On any part of the pitch, if a player pushes a player with two hands and he goes down off balance, it's not up to him to stay on his feet. It's a penalty, simple as that," he said.
"I was more disappointed with the tackle by [Nunez]. Twenty-five years ago when I was playing people would talk about that being a decent tackle. You take the ball but you take the man. He's wrapped his legs right round Bogle and it's resulted in the second goal. I think it's a foul. I think there's a foul leading up to that where he jumped into Jack Robinson.
"It's another poor night by the referee if I'm honest. It's not rose-tinted glasses, it's what I've seen."
Sheffield United: Foderingham (7), Bogle (7), Robinson (7), Trusty (7), Ahmedhodzic (6), McAtee (6), Souza (6), Hamer (6), Brooks (6), Osula (6), Archer (6).
Subs used: Fleck (6), Traore (6), Norwood (N/A), Lowe (N/A)
Liverpool: Kelleher (6), Alexander-Arnold (7), Konate (5), Van Dijk (7), Gomez (5), Endo (6), Mac Allister (6), Szoboszlai (7) Salah (6), Gakpo (6), Diaz (6).
Subs used: Jones (6), Elliott (6), Nunez (6), Gravenberch (N/A)
Player of the match: Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)
Wilder - the architect of Sheff United's rise through League One and the Championship to the Premier League during his first stint in charge - immediately shook things up after replacing his successor Paul Heckingbottom, with five changes and a switch to a back four. And it made life hard for Liverpool.
The first big chance actually fell to the home side, with Cameron Archer nicking the ball off the sloppy Joe Gomez and setting McAtee up for a close-range shot at goal on the break but Kelleher got down well. Van Dijk then had to come across and stop Archer's charge into the box when Konate was caught out.
But Liverpool racked up nine corners in that first half and after a tame header from Konate, Van Dijk eventually capitalised, volleying in Alexander-Arnold's cross. The Dutchman was in acres of space, with his marker Ahmedhodzic on the floor after colliding with the Liverpool man - but VAR ruled there was no foul.
Alexis Mac Allister, fresh from his wonder goal over Fulham, forced Foderingham to tip over another spectacular effort on the stroke of half-time, although an earlier blow from Vini Souza forced him off after the break.
Foderingham saved brilliantly from Salah when he connected with a corner in a similar position to Van Dijk, although Nunez gave him a chance to smother when he broke through with around 25 minutes to play, shooting at the goalkeeper from Alexander-Arnold's excellent pass through.
Liverpool followers may have feared that Nunez miss would be punished when McAtee was barged over in the box by Konate with three minutes of normal time remaining. The defender was taking a big risk, with the ball out of his reach, but he got away with it and Szoboszlai sealed it soon after.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp: "I'm really pleased with the result. I'm really pleased with a lot of aspects of the game. I would call it a mature performance, aside from a few moments when we gave the ball away in areas we should not. If you did not see the game you heard it because we calmed an atmosphere that was ready to go. That was super important.
"I don't want to be overly critical. I know we can play better football but at this time of the year you play, hopefully win, recover, play again. It would be extremely cool if we could have scored the second goal earlier. We tried to create without opening up too much. We didn't create the clear-cut chances and it's sometimes like that. You need to use the set-pieces, defend their set-pieces. There's no game without tricky moments if you don't put it to bed.
"Who deserved to win that game? It was us. We have to fight through this [period] like everybody else. When you get a good feeling and results help you don't feel the intensity so much."
It's an ACL ruptured. That's unfortunately what I expected from the first second. It was very unfortunate.
On Mac Allister's injury: "Early [an opponent] stepped on his knee, there was a cut. As long as the wound was open just strapped it. Obviously it was painful. Then it tightened and he couldn't move it anymore. We will have to see how long that takes, I hope not too long."
On the title race: "If somebody would write Manchester City off that would be the biggest joke in the history of football. That really makes no sense. Arsenal are fighting and had a similar experience we had [late win vs Fulham]. It feels really good but anyway you have to start the next game from 0-0. Aston Villa is incredible. United is there, don't play yet maybe exactly the football whoever wants - the media or whatever - but they have points like crazy. Chelsea, I'm not sure if they're coming. The league is incredibly strong, you need to be lucky to get through difficult moments, with injuries especially. So I have no clue [who will win title]."
Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder: "It will stay with me forever that. I thank everybody from the bottom of my heart because I've been a long time away. I understand some of the support think it was a mistake me coming back and I have to earn that trust. What Prince Abdullah did a couple of days ago, I really appreciate that, what he said about me being the best man for the job. I do believe I'm the best man for the job. But I've got to go and prove it. There's plenty of life left in me.
I didn't know. It's not a club decision or a personal decision. I just didn't know he did that.
"I enjoyed watching Sheffield United tonight. It was a Sheffield United performance. I'm pleased with a lot of aspects of our play, our approach and our attitude."
Sheffield United are back in action on Saturday when they host Brentford in the Premier League, kick-off 3pm. The following weekend, the Blades travel to Chelsea on Saturday December 16, kick-off 3pm.
Liverpool travel to Crystal Palace on Saturday in the Premier League, kick-off 12.30pm. They then finish their Europa League campaign on Thursday December 14 away to Union Saint-Gilloise, kick-off 5.45pm.