Liverpool welcome Sheffield United to Anfield as they look to kick off the year the same way they ended the last one. The Reds maintained their 13-point gap at the top of the table in the last match — a narrow victory over Wolves aided by some controversial VAR decisions ensured that they remained unbeaten at Anfield for the whole of 2019.
Sheffield United were involved in controversy of their own as they lost to Manchester City. They were more than a match for the current champions, but the home side were too strong to be kept quiet for 90 minutes as they fell to a 2-0 defeat.
Liverpool won all of their Premier League games in December despite a congested fixture list. They returned home from Qatar as the Champions of the World, before facing second-placed Leicester City five days later. A 4-0 victory at the King Power meant Liverpool face Wolves in good form.
Wolves made a handful of changes while Liverpool’s sole difference was Adam Lallana’s inclusion in midfield. The Reds were the better team in the first half and scored late on, Sadio Mané slotting home after a being played in by Lallana. The goal was initially disallowed but after four different checks it was subsequently awarded.
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Wolves thought they had equalised three minutes later but Jonny Otto was adjudged to have been a couple of millimetres offside. Liverpool have had similar goals disallowed over the course of the season, but the length VAR goes to prove a player is offside is getting ridiculous at this stage.
Liverpool held on though a nervy second half as they completed the first half of the season halving only dropped points once.
Sheffield United were unbeaten away from home until they travelled to the Etihad. Lys Mousset looked to have given Sheffield the lead, but VAR intervened once again to prove he was millimetres offside. That was the last chance the Blades got for the rest of the game, but they still were excellent defensively.
They took the lead through a trademark Sergio Agüero finish with the help of the referee, they doubled their advantage through Kevin de Bruyne as they stayed within reach of second-placed Leicester.
Jürgen Klopp has a reduced number of senior outfield players to choose from for the game on Thursday night. The defence will remain unchanged with the boss having no real option to rotate.
Naby Keïta and James Milner could replace Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson to refresh the midfield, who looked leggy in the latter stages against Wolves.
Divock Origi might also give Mohamed Salah a rest, with Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané completing the front three.
Chris Wilder will probably make a few changes following the game against Manchester City. The ‘keeper and defence will remain the same, though changes in midfield and the forward line are to be expected.
John Lundstram will likely return to the starting line-up following injury, while Oli McBurnie will start up front.
The months of January and February are when Liverpool have historically performed worst under Klopp — they have just won 12 of their 29 games during those two months.
The Reds play five league games this month, four of them against teams placed fifth to eighth in the league. While Liverpool have built a sizeable lead that ensure they can afford to have a couple of slip ups, it would be better if we drop points later on in the season, not here.
The reverse fixture saw Liverpool struggle like many teams have at Bramall Lane. Sadio Mané wasted two excellent chances to take the lead, but a goalkeeping error from Dean Henderson gifted the three points after fumbling a volley from Georginio Wijnaldum into his own net.
The tie will likely be just as close tomorrow — neither team will play at 100% and may look simply to get through the game without any injuries. I think Liverpool will win with a similar performance to the one against Wolves.
Predicted final score: Liverpool 2-0 Sheffield United