Liverpool weren’t at their best at Bramall Lane on Saturday afternoon.
The Premier League leaders struggled to assert their authority and weren’t able to consistently get Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané into the game. When they did manage to carve out opportunities, the front three wasted gilt-edged chances.
It was a match that had 0-0 written all over it. That was until Divock Origi was sent on with 30 minutes left to play.
The Belgian’s introduction saw the Reds switch to a 4-2-3-1 shape with Salah leading the line, Firmino the man supporting the two-time Golden Boot winner, Mane on the right and the Liverpool No.27 on the left.
Prior to the 24-year-old’s introduction, Jürgen Klopp’s side were predictable, something that is often the case.
The difference, however, was down to the fact this wasn’t on their terms for once. When the European champions dominate, the opposition have no choice but to cede territory. On Saturday. it was Sheffield United controlling the space Liverpool could and couldn't operate in.
Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip saw a lot of the ball, as expected, but central areas were congested. Firmino was crowded out and the hosts doubled up on Mané and Salah. As a result, Liverpool struggled to get a foothold in the final third. They couldn’t pin the home side back. They couldn’t wear them down.
The Reds' wide forwards tend to want to cut inside and the Brazilian No.9 like to drop deep. But Chris Wilder’s team operate with three centre-backs and three midfielders in two compact lines. It was near impossible to find space in the final third.
Liverpool's first clear opportunity of the game came as a result of a long pass forward from van Dijk. It put Mané one-on-one with Dean Henderson but the Senegal international wasted the chance.
The second was via a counter-attacking situation with Sheffield United, for once, not having enough men back to deal with the Reds. But again, Mané missed.
Origi’s arrival saw Klopp’s men add unpredictability to their play and as the game became stretched, the Belgian had a lot of joy.
His first involvement was chasing down a Matip punt. Firmino doubled up with him to press the home side and Origi managed to dispossess Chris Basham, skip by him and drive to the byline. Instead of looking to get into the area where all the bodies are positioned, the former Lille man attacked the space and forced the defenders to close him down.
Origi managed to pick Salah out with a pass but the Egyptian mistimes his effort. Straight away, however, Liverpool went from one dimensional to having a wildcard on the left.
Liverpool struggling the whole game and Origi comes on, puts the cross in and Wijnaldum scores. I love these two. pic.twitter.com/9w1MH3dKg7
— – (@EnRouteAnfield) September 28, 2019
The Belgian was almost hugging the touchline with Andrew Robertson operating more centrally, a change in the dynamic and a switch for Sheffield United to adapt to. In the build-up to the winner, the Liverpool left-back is in a position normally filled by Mané.
Firmino played the ball to the No.26 and darted into the area. Robertson passed it to Origi who faked to go on the outside only to chop back onto his right foot and cross.
George Baldock didn’t want to get tight because he knew Origi had the skill to beat him, but by standing off he allowed a ball into the area under next to no pressure.
The cross was dealt with but the hosts couldn’t get out quick enough to shut down Gini Wijnaldum. His effort was well struck but right down the throat of Henderson. It should’ve been a routine save but instead, the ball wriggled out of his arms, between his legs and over the line.
In isolation, it doesn’t look like anything special. But Origi created that goal by putting doubt in the opposition’s mind. Baldock stood off and John Lundstram made an attempt to double up. This forced Oliver Norwood to fill the space left by his midfield partner and Wijnaldum was free.
Really enjoyed Origi’s contribution yesterday.
He’s big, strong, quick, the ball was sticking when when we needed to go long under pressure & he was taking his man on when he got the opportunity to do so.
Some lovely footwork there too. pic.twitter.com/qlYeJi7PYg
— ? The Red Debate ? (@TheRedDebate) September 29, 2019
Origi nearly added a second for the Reds late on. Again, he positioned himself wide on the left but cut inside on his right. He then performed an elastico to create a chance in a crowded area. Unfortunately for the visitors, he dragged his effort wide but his ingenuity is something Liverpool didn't have until the 24-year-old was on the pitch.
Without Origi, the Liverpool forward line is like many on FIFA Ultimate Team; full of pace. Most of the time it's near impossible to stop as the trio have the quality to create something out of nothing.
But sometimes you need a bit of FIFA Street in the mix. That’s exactly what Origi brings to this Liverpool side.