LONDON • Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 61 home Premier League matches but manager Jurgen Klopp is aware of the challenge posed by Sheffield United today.
The Premier League champions are closing in on a club record of 63 home league wins from 1978-81. The last time they were beaten at Anfield in the top flight was when they went down 2-1 to Crystal Palace in April 2017.
Chris Wilder’s side were last season’s surprise package after they finished ninth on their first season back after a 12-year absence, but they appear to be suffering from a case of the second-season syndrome.
The Blades are winless and 19th after five games of the new campaign, but Klopp believes the visitors are better than their current position suggests.
“(Sheffield United) deserve a lot of attention for what they do because it is really good,” the Reds manager said at his virtual pre-match press conference yesterday.
“Even when the results are not so far like they wished for the performances, they have not been bad and I’m sure Chris Wilder knows that. For us, that makes it tricky and they had a full week to prepare for this game.”
With injuries to several first-team players and a lack of scoring options, United started with four straight defeats but showed significant improvement in last Sunday’s 1-1 draw with promoted Fulham.
In the absence of the injured Virgil van Dijk, Brazilian midfielder Fabinho moved to central defence and delivered an assured display as Liverpool beat Ajax 1-0 in their Champions League opener on Wednesday. Klopp, however, claimed his new-look defensive line still needs time to settle, with the Dutch captain set for an extended spell on the sidelines.
While Fabinho is familiar with the role, having played there on numerous occasions in the past two seasons and as recently as last month’s 2-0 Premier League win over Chelsea, the one constant has always been van Dijk.
Since joining in January 2018, he has missed only one game and played the last two full Premier League campaigns before his injury during the Merseyside derby.
“We don’t want to know how long he’ll be out for. It will take time that is clear,” Klopp said.
(Sheffield United) deserve a lot of attention for what they do because it is really good… For us, that makes it tricky and they had a full week to prepare…
“We all know Fab can play this position, he did it against Bayern (Munich) last year in a home game, for example, and he played great.
“But this line (partnering Joe Gomez) had not played together before the Ajax game. You can’t talk about it or exchange notes, it is about feeling what is right. It will take time for these boys to get used to each other.”
It will likely be the same pairing of Fabinho and Gomez at the back, although Klopp said he will give late fitness tests to Joel Matip and Thiago Alcantara. Both players missed the trip to Amsterdam.
There will also be a reunion of sorts as Rhian Brewster is in line for his full debut for United after coming on as a substitute against Fulham, according to Wilder.
The England Under-21 striker was deemed surplus to requirements and sold for £23.5 million (S$41.6 million) during the transfer window.
But, despite Brewster failing to make the grade at Anfield, Klopp is aware of his pedigree.
The Reds inserted a buyback clause in case he flourishes in new surroundings, and the German jokingly spoke of his wish to see the 20-year-old make a name for himself, except against his team.
Calling him “a natural finisher”, Klopp added: “We all know him very well. That’s the problem – we know how good he is. Rhian used to be our boy but still we feel he is.
“I wish him a nearly perfect Premier League season… but two games off when they play us.”
LIVERPOOL V SHEFFIELD UNITED
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