James Shield's Sheffield United Column: The boring and utterly pointless back story to Sunday's game against Liverpool

Every good story needs a villain and in this case it will be Jurgen Klopp.

Thursday, 25th February 2021, 6:00 pm

Or should that be Chris Wilder? To be perfectly honest, I’m not quite sure. It depends, I suppose, on whether you follow Sheffield United or Liverpool, who meet at Bramall Lane on Sunday night.

Twelve months ago, before the Covid-19 pandemic put the brakes on football for the best part of 14 weeks, the narrative surrounding this game would have been very different. Back then, as United challenged for Europe and the title edged towards Anfield, Wilder and Klopp were friends. Such good friends in fact that, listening to some of the coverage during the build up to last year’s meeting in the North-West, one could easily envisage the pair emerging from the tunnel arm in arm while the sound of a lone violinist drowned out the strains of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

So what’s changed? The answer is everything and not a lot. Which says everything about how games, particularly Premier League games, are framed by many of those tasked with covering them.

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Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp shakes hands with Sheffield United's Chris Wilder following this season's match at Anfield: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

The relationship between Wilder and Klopp, so the legend goes, descended into acrimony earlier this season in a row about substitutes. The United manager wanted seven, of which only three could actually be used. The latter, factoring his squad’s Champions League obligations into the equation and aware of its depth, wanted to raise those numbers to nine and five. The fact they both scored a victory in this logistical battle, with clubs permitted to increase the number of replacements selected but not the amount they could actually use, appeared to be lost in the noise as Wilder and Klopp apparently went to war - or so we were told - over the issue.

Well, if they did go to war, it was a pretty one-sided skirmish. Klopp, maybe or maybe not choosing his words poorly during an interview conducted in English rather than his native German, accused Wilder of being “selfish”. The 53-year-old pleaded guilty to the charge; but not before pointing out that Klopp was also only interested in what suited his employer best.

Was anyone really surprised that two top-flight managers were determined to protect their respective clubs’ interests? Apparently so, given the reaction which followed. For a couple of weeks at least, the issue seemed to dominate the news agenda while many social media users went into meltdown - wishing a plague of locusts and a hell of a lot worse on either Wilder or Klopp. You’d think one of them, or both, had whipped down their tracksuit bottoms and taken a whatsit in the proverbial footballing soup.

This weekend, when they meet for the first time since that supposed spat, every single word, every single gesture, that Wilder and Klopp exchange in the technical area will be subject to forensic levels of analysis.

The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield

Heaven knows why because, unless one of them lands a doughboy on the other, they will be of absolutely no relevance.

Two blokes have a disagreement in a passionate business. Shock horror. Personally, I’m more bothered about the match.

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Sheffield United play Liverpool at Bramall Lane this weekend: Simon Bellis/Sportimage