'The season has panned out as if a wishlist of Liverpool's main rivals' - the lowdown on Jurgen Klopp's fallen champions ahead of Sheffield United clash

Sheffield United have had a challenging campaign to put it mildly but will come up against a Liverpool side at Bramall Lane on Sunday evening which has also endured a turbulent season as reigning Premier League champions.

Saturday, 27th February 2021, 1:26 pm

Jurgen Klopp’s men will arrive in South Yorkshire in a distant sixth place after an inconsistent title defence blighted by injury to key men and a loss of form to others just months after romping to their first title win since 1990.

So, what can Chris Wilder’s side expect from the out-of-sorts Anfield men?

We asked Ian Doyle, chief Liverpool writer for the Liverpool Echo, for his thoughts on the Reds’ season so far.

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.

How surprised have you been by Liverpool's form since the 7-0 win at Palace in December?

Looking at just the results, you'd be shocked. But the performances during the first of the season were largely of a team just getting through things, with a couple of notable high points, and events since the turn of the year have in some ways been inevitable.

The unique nature of this season simply doesn't favour Liverpool and the longer the campaign has progressed, the more that has become clear - the number of freak statistical anomalies has been astonishing, as is proving the case with many other Premier League teams.

And that's before we mention the injuries...

Can all of Liverpool's problems this season be blamed on injuries to key men?

Not quite every issue comes back to injuries, but the timing of them has been particularly harming - whenever one player seems ready to return, another two drop out.

To be honest, the season has panned out as if a wishlist of Liverpool's main rivals, with almost every advantage the Reds have had in recent years being taken away.

Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool's most influential player? Get him ruled out.

Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, their other key centre-backs? They can go too.

What about Fabinho and Jordan Henderson, their essential defensive midfielders? Move them out of position, then have them injured.

New signings Thiago, Diogo Jota and Kostas Tsimikas? They can also suffer long-term absences.

The backing of the Anfield crowd? There'll be none of that.

An enforced style of play negating the impact of the full-backs? But of course.

And some regulars losing form? That too.

Most teams - with one or two exceptions among the front-runners - have struggled with major injuries, but not quite to the extent of Liverpool.

And while every club is missing the backing of their supporters, there's a reason people talk about the power of Anfield and the impact of those fans (interestingly, I think Sheffield United have been the other Premier League club to suffer most from injuries and having no fans in stadiums).

Another problem for Liverpool has been the previous happy knack of Jurgen Klopp and owners Fenway Sports Group to make the right decisions has suddenly gone missing.

Put all that together, and you can see why Liverpool's players have started to lose the self-belief that was so crucial to them winning all those trophies over the last two years.

Liverpool's 'troubles' have been well documented, but what would be a 'successful' season for the club after a turbulent few months?

There is little realistic expectation among supporters at present, many of whom have simply written off the season - not least because, bar 6,000 of them in December, none have been able to attend any matches. Liverpool's players, of course, cannot do that.

That said, if the Reds finish in the top four it would be quite an achievement.

If they win the Champions League, well, that would be borderline miraculous given they'll be playing without all of those key players.

In truth, Liverpool managing to negotiate the remainder of the season without another player being ruled out for months would at least be a step in the right direction and help them ahead of the new campaign.

What did Liverpool supporters make of the club's business in the January transfer window?

Many supporters weren't too impressed a centre-back wasn't bought earlier in the window but the fact Liverpool eventually spent barely anything on two players on deadline day does indicate they, like many other clubs, are cutting their cloth accordingly in these pandemic times.

I would be amazed if a centre-back hasn't already been lined up for the summer, and that would explain why they this month bought one defender, Ben Davies, for next to nothing from the Championship and brought another, Ozan Kabak, on loan from Schalke with no obligation to buy.

Kabak hasn't been great so far, but it's a bit harsh to ask a 20-year-old who has been playing for a struggling Bundesliga side to come in and save Liverpool's season.

Davies hasn't even played yet, so the jury is out on both.

What style of football (or system) should United expect to come up against?

Well, unfortunately for the Blades, they are playing at home. If the game was at Anfield, I'd expect Sheffield United to just stick everyone behind the ball and watch Liverpool flounder.

After all, that's what has been happening of late at home for the Reds.

On the road, though, they've actually been doing okay and if United decide to play anything other than completely defensive, it could help Liverpool.

As for the Reds' system and style, that is the problem.

Jurgen Klopp has been keen all season to add variety and make his team more unpredictable, but the chronic lack of options has made it almost impossible.

So you can expect the same Liverpool that's been seen for the past three years, albeit a lesser, more cautious and less ruthless version.

Score prediction?

Chris Wilder would surely love to put one over Jurgen Klopp but Liverpool can't keep on losing forever. And while most Reds are fully expecting Rhian Brewster to end his goal drought against his former team, that won't be enough to stop Liverpool winning 2-1. Sorry!

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