The Warm Down: Reds require slice of fortune to stay perfect
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Liverpool produced a below-par but resilient display against a supremely well-drilled Sheffield United to once again grind out three points.

The Reds couldn't afford to waver in their defensive concentration after the usually clinical pairing of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah fluffed fantastic chances to put them in command.

This had the air of a gruelling away test prior to kick-off and so it proved, with the hosts showing themselves to be far more than plucky underdogs.

Another ugly win

Liverpool had to soak up relentless waves of Chelsea pressure in a narrow victory at Stamford Bridge last weekend and once again, even against newly-promoted opposition, they were made to sweat.

The claim will inevitably be made that the win was undeserved given the Reds' profligacy and their opponents' valour, but the Blades faltered at key moments, not least when Georginio Wijnaldum drove a shot straight at Dean Henderson.

Liverpool ultimately refused to be beaten or indeed to drop points, with Andrew Robertson producing a decisive moment of Braveheart-esque heroism to get in the way of John Fleck's shot after the midfielder stepped inside Fabinho and looked poised to power past Adrian.

That's now 16 Premier League wins on the trot, stretching back to a 4-2 success against Burnley in March. That statistic alone tells you it's not a matter of luck, though that does play the occasional part. The Liverpool boss has built a relentless juggernaut.

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Van Dijk's bog-standard brilliance

Liverpool supporters are so used to watching Virgil van Dijk stop absolutely everything that comes his way, but that doesn't mean they should take the machine-like displays for granted.

The imposing Dutchman simply could not be bypassed, notching two blocks and seven clearances and remarkably winning 12 aerial duels. He ought to have contributed a superb assist when his swerving, incisive long ball picked out Mane, but the eventual shot was wild.

It was an authoritative, man-of-the-match importance and without it Liverpool simply would not have won the game. 

In Van Dijk and his partner Joel Matip, who also impressed as he continues what is a career-best run of form, the Reds have perhaps the best central defensive pairing in the world right now, with Joe Gomez, excellent prior to an injury last season, ready to step-in if required.

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Salah and Mane misfire

It's now three games without a goal for Salah or Mane - a barren run by their almost peerless standards - and on Saturday they turned in perhaps their tamest performances yet. 

Mane squandered two glorious opportunities in the first half, the first following Van Dijk's aforementioned defence-splitter and the second after Roberto Firmino teed him up for what should have been a simple finish with the goal gaping. 

The winger rolled the ball against the post, and wouldn't get the chance to make amends in the second half. 

Mane has in his mighty Liverpool career had the occasional game where he can't seem to find the net no matter how gilt-edged the opening, but this was his probably his first in that mold during a devastating 2019.

Salah, meanwhile, really ought to have wrapped-up the three points and banished fears of a nervous conclusion when he raced through on goal around 10 minutes from time but he made it far too easy for redemption-seeking Henderson.

On the whole, the Egyptian, so explosive that every team must think up a masterplan to contain him, had a difficult afternoon against the Blades' fired-up yet disciplined backline. He's yet to score away from home this season.

Liverpool have seven wins from seven league games even though they've yet to really have a game with each member of the frontline on song. From that perspective, it's slightly ominous.

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Illustration of obstacles Reds will face

Liverpool have now faced two newly-promoted teams and found them to be surprise packages. Norwich, the champions' recent conquerors, came to Anfield on the opening night of the season and confidently crafted routes through the home defence on a number of occasions and this, against the favourites to prop-up the table, was a largely even affair.

What it illustrates is that, perhaps more so than ever, there will be no easy games in the Reds' title bid. Even sides who spent last season in the Championship have arrived with fresh, bold ideas, implemented by fantastic managers, which will make them a real handful for established opponents.

Next weekend, the leaders play host to Leicester, a team harbouring legitimate ambitions of breaking not only into the top six but into the Champions League places. They were, notably, held in that fixture last season and can again expect to be seriously tested in all departments.

Week-on-week, Liverpool are rattling off victories, but still each feels genuinely significant.