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Sweet 16! Lucky Liverpool march on after major scare in Sheffield

2:47 PM WAT 28/09/2019
Gini Wijnaldum Liverpool 2019-20
Jurgen Klopp's side maintained their winning streak - and perfect start to the Premier League season - but only because of a goalkeeping howler

When your luck’s in, it’s in.

Liverpool’s perfect start to the Premier League season goes on. Jurgen Klopp’s side got their 'Sweet 16' at Bramall Lane. 

Just.

Their seventh straight league win this season, and their 16th in total, is in the bag, but it was secured courtesy of one of the worst goalkeeping howlers you will ever see. 

Dean Henderson, the Sheffield United goalkeeper on loan from Manchester United, will want to steer clear of TV screens for a few days. His clanger, 20 minutes from time, gifted Gini Wijnaldum the only goal of a tight contest. How the Dutchman’s volley squirmed through the England under-21 man, only Henderson knows.

That, incredibly, was Liverpool’s first shot on target. They had struggled to that point, stifled by a superbly well-coached and well-organised Blades outfit, whose fans did everything in their power to roar their side towards a famous result. With Jack O'Connell, the boyhood Liverpool fan, and John Egan outstanding, they dug in and they hung on and they gave the Reds an almighty scare.

Liverpool wasted chances, twice in the first half through Sadio Mane, but the prospect of dropping points for the first time since March looked a real one until Wijnaldum drew back his foot from the edge of the box with time running out.

His effort should have been bread and butter for Henderson, but on a wet surface, the goalkeeper failed to get his body behind the shot. The ball trickled, agonisingly, over the line, sparking delirium among the hitherto concerned away supporters. It was relief as much as delight.

Klopp said on Friday that he was looking forward to facing Chris Wilder and his Sheffield United side, but he won’t fancy coming here again in a hurry.

And he won’t want to see his side play like this too often, either.

Liverpool, who rested their entire starting XI in midweek, lacked punch and spark for much of this contest. They passed the ball slowly and sloppily, struggled against Sheffield United’s counter-attacks and were unable to get their main players into the game for long spells. The tempo of their play was poor.

For the first time in more than two-and-a-half years, they failed to muster a shot on target in the first half of a league game – although Mane, twice, should have averted that issue.

And had it not been for Andy Robertson, denying John Fleck what looked a certain goal, the title hopefuls may well have found themselves behind before Henderson’s howler.

As it was, they maintain their 100 per cent record, and are now unbeaten in 62 games after scoring the first goal. They have also won their last 13 matches against newly promoted opposition, though they won't have had to work this hard often. For the first time since 1990, they have won their first seven games of a league campaign.

By hook or by crook, they continue to set the pace at the top of the table. Manchester City go to Everton later on Saturday, and they will arrive there with an eight-point deficit. Liverpool did their job here; what can the champions now do at Goodison Park?

Klopp will ask for improvement from his side, who looked more threatening, at least, after the introduction of Divock Origi as a second-half substitute. But get the German on his own and he’ll tell you that he suspected this would be something of a struggle. He knew his side would have to graft and fight against a team that is not used to losing.

His expectation was spot on. "We didn't find the space," he said afterwards. "If it had been a draw, I would say that is what Sheffield deserved and we deserved."

What is it they say; if you can’t be good, be lucky? "Winning on the cloudy days is especially valuable," added Klopp.

Liverpool will live and die by that particular mantra today. The clouds gathered, but they kept themselves dry.

They march on, but only just.