Diogo Jota completes Liverpool's comeback win over Sheffield United

Andy Hunter at Anfield
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Peter Byrne/EPA</span>
Photograph: Peter Byrne/EPA

Another Saturday, another dose of VAR torment for Liverpool; only this time Jürgen Klopp’s champions would not be denied victory by strange goings-on at Stockley Park. Diogo Jota’s header lifted Liverpool level on points with Everton at the top of the Premier League after VAR had awarded Sheffield United a dubious penalty and disallowed a sublime goal from Mohamed Salah.

Despite the interventions that are driving Klopp to distraction his team extended their unbeaten run at Anfield to a remarkable 62 league games. The 9,999th goal in the club’s history means Liverpool can equal their record of 63 home league games unbeaten – set between 1978 and 1981 – when West Ham visit next Saturday. Klopp will be seeking improvement in his team’s performance, this was more hard-fought and dogged than slick and stylish, but their focus and resilience was faultless yet again. Jota’s winner, coming two minutes after Salah’s disallowed volley, was the hallmark of a single-minded side.

Related: Liverpool v Sheffield United: Premier League – live!

The wait for a first league win of the campaign continues for Chris Wilder, although there was plenty to encourage the United manager here. Oli McBurnie and Oliver Burke, a second-half replacement for the former Liverpool striker Rhian Brewster, caused all manner of problems for the home defence but did not find the composure in front of goal to capitalise. Alisson, returning to the side after missing four games with a shoulder problem, was gainfully employed all evening as United created enough chances to claim a point.

“They had more possession and control of the game but it wasn’t one-way traffic,” Wilder correctly stated. “We could have done better with the positions we got into in the final third. They did that and we didn’t. This league is ruthless and cruel and it is a cruel one to take tonight.”

Jota brought even more quality and adventure to the Liverpool attack as Klopp made a rare formation switch to 4-2-3-1 with the Portugal international on the right and Salah leading the line. Jordan Henderson in particular relished the extra options ahead of him while Sadio Mané flourished as usual on the left.

Mané almost put the champions ahead on 67 seconds when he latched on to Andy Robertson’s fine pass and beat Aaron Ramsdale as the United goalkeeper unnecessarily rushed from goal. The covering John Egan, one of several impressive defenders in the visiting ranks, cleared before Salah could tap into an empty net.

Moments later Trent Alexander-Arnold almost scored with an audacious free-kick from inside his own half but the back-peddling Ramsdale tipped over to deny the defender one of the goals of the season.

Liverpool were dominant from the start. United had not constructed an attack of note before they were awarded a penalty that altered the complexion of the first half. As with the finale at Goodison Park last week, when Henderson had a 92nd minute winner ruled out for a fractional offside against Mané, Klopp was left aghast at the intrusion of VAR. It looked a harsh decision to the naked eye when Mike Dean penalised Fabinho for a foul on McBurnie. The Brazilian appeared to win the ball just outside the area as he attempted to atone for a poor clearance. The VAR official, Andre Marriner, however, ruled that contact was made on the 18-yard line and upgraded Dean’s decision to a penalty. It was the first spot-kick awarded against Liverpool at Anfield for two years.

Related: Jürgen Klopp and Chris Wilder at odds over Anfield VAR calls

Sander Berge sent Alisson the wrong way from the spot and United were emboldened by their lead. George Baldock’s crosses were a constant source of danger. McBurnie should have doubled United’s advantage from a superb crossfield ball by the wing-back but his shot lacked any conviction and sailed well wide.

Another Baldock delivery teed up Ben Osborn for a volley that the Liverpool keeper pushed away and United had three more penalty appeals dismissed before the interval. Two – for a handball by Robertson and a push by Alexander-Arnold on McBurnie – were rightly ignored but Jota was fortunate VAR chose not to review his challenge on Berge when the midfielder darted into the box.

Baldock and Osborn were effective in denying space to Liverpool’s marauding full-backs but Alexander-Arnold was involved in the hosts’ equaliser late in the first half. His lay-off was swept towards the far post by Henderson and Mané, somehow left unmarked, met the excellent cross with a powerful header. Ramsdale saved but the ball dropped kindly for Firmino to tap home his first goal of what by his elevated standards has been an underwhelming season so far.

Salah thought he had edged Liverpool ahead with a stunning strike as pressure mounted on the visiting defence in the second half. The striker’s first touch to control Alexander-Arnold’s cross into the area was beautiful. His second was even better, volleying beyond Ramsdale in the same movement for his 101st goal in Liverpool colours. But no, it was back to 100 when VAR spotted he was just offside when the cross was played. Liverpool were not deflated by their latest slap from technology. Two minutes later the irrepressible Mané crossed from the left and Jota, left in too much space by Enda Stevens, steered an unstoppable header beyond Ramsdale.

Salah could have given his team the comfort of a two-goal lead when he turned Egan inside the box but chipped against a post from close range.