Sheffield United 0-1 Liverpool: Brave Blades beaten in heartbreaking fashion
Chris Wilder's notes in the matchday programme revealed the scale of the challenge facing his team.
Predictably bullish, the Sheffield United manager promised his players would try and attack the game. But in an unusually deferential admission, he acknowledged "a lot of aspects of the game will have to go our way" in order to beat the reigning European champions.
It was Liverpool, however, who left Bramall Lane knowing they had benefited from a huge slice of good fortune.
Georginio Wijnaldum's effort, following arguably United's best spell of the match, proved enough to settle this afternoon's game. But only after Dean Henderson, who appeaared absolutely heartbroken as he left the pitch, had allowed the ball to squeeze through his legs. The youngster, described by Wilder beforehand as England's best young goalkeeper, later redeemed himself by denying Mo Salah.
But make no mistake, United deserved something to show for their efforts. They knew it, the fans knew it and you suspect the visitors knew it too.
The excellent John Fleck and substitute Leon Clarke both missed opportunities, with the later prodding over the crossbar after combining with the midfielder. Oli McBurnie was tireless, George Baldock determined and, marshalled by John Egan, United's defensive shape was superb. Until Henderson's mistake, Jurgen Klopp's side were rarely able to break them down.
Despite spending the first three minutes chasing the ball as Liverpool swept it about the pitch, United enjoyed the contest's first sight of goal. McBurnie, looking to attack Joel Matip rather than Virgil van Dijk, eased himself into position after teasing his marker. But his shot, which curled around the Cameroon international, was comfortably saved by Adrian. Still, it confirmed Klopp's men, for all their firepower going forward, can be vulnerable at the back.
The contest continued in the same manner - with Liverpool pressing and United punching holes in their rearguard - until just before the break.
McBurnie made inroads again, this time shuffling past Trent Alexander-Arnold, while John Egan sent a header spiralling into the air from Oliver Norwood's corner. There were more encouraging signs when Salah, after twice failing to find a team mate around United's box, began waving his arms about in theatrical fashion. The Egyptian's body language, like the weather, was not good.
Robinson was presented with a chance midway through the opening period, when Norwood and Fleck combined to send Callum Robinson bearing down on goal. But the former Preston North End striker sliced well wide after trying his luck from just inside the area.
As the half unfolded, so United's grip on the game strengthened. Van Dijk was forced to clear as McBurnie prepared to head Robinson's centre. Liverpool, sensing the change in atmosphere, began to showcase a few dirty tricks. Jordan Henderson's tumble, after being brushed by Jack O'Connell, angered the home supporters.
It took until the 34th minute for United's defence to be properly prised apart. Van Dijk's long ball over the top sent Sadio Mane running through but he made a dreadful hash of the finish.
United continued to impress after the interval, with McBurnie glancing a header just over the bar. But midway through the second period, it was Liverpool who took the lead when Wijnaldum's shot squeezed through Henderson and trickled across the line. Henderson redeeemed himself though, by making an excellent block to deny Salah after a slip from John Lundstram had allowed the Egyptian to dart through.
Sheffield United: Henderson, O'Connell, Egan, Basham, Stevens, Baldock, Norwood (Clarke 76), Fleck, Lundstram, McBurnie, Robinson (Mousset 60). Not used: Moore, L Freeman, Jagielka, Osborn, Besic.
Liverpool: Adrian, Fabinho, van Dijk, Wijnaldum, Robertson, Henderson (Origi 63), Matip, Alexander-Arnold, Firmino (Milner 87), Mane (Oxlade-Chamberlain 90), Salah. Not used: Kelleher, Lovren, Gomez, Lallana.
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire).