A fortuitous Georginio Wijnaldum volley secured a hard-fought victory for Liverpool away to Sheffield United.
The Dutchman’s goal, which was borne from a goalkeeping mistake, saw the Reds cement their place at the top of the table, with the European Champions now seven wins from seven this season.
Liverpool’s slow starts to early kick off’s is well-publicized and it proved to be the case again at an atmospheric Bramall Lane.
The Reds opening salvos were compounded by several poor touches, with the slick passing and movement normally associated with the European Champions replaced with laborious and often telegraphed attempts to crowbar open the hosts’ well-drilled defence.
Chris Wilder’s men were keen to press, too, with their orchestrated squeeze causing both Joel Matip and Trent Alexander Arnold to cough up possession.
The newly-promoted side were not shy of attacking either, throwing men forward at times.
Oliver McBurnie and Callum Robinson were willing runners for the Blades, with the Scot testing Adrian with a strong shot, and Robinson — the Irish international — blazing a shot over the bar.
Liverpool were struggling to effectively play through midfield and Virgil Van Dijk took the creative onus and supplied a brilliant, over the top ball for Mané. The pass sent the Senegalese through on goal, but his composure deserted him and last season’s golden boot sharer sliced horribly wide.
Mané was in the thick of it again as the game approached half time.
The relatively quiet Mohamed Salah won a turnover with Sheffield United committing men forward and Liverpool broke in numbers.
Salah’s attempted slide-rule pass to Georginio Wijnaldum ricocheted back to the Egyptian who then found Firmino in the box. The Brazilian unselfishly released Mané and the former Southampton man, with only Dean Henderson to beat, struck the post when he ought to have scored.
The half time whistle sounded with the table-toppers far from their best, but unfortunate not to be in the lead.
The second half was played in much the same manner; Sheffield United keen and committed and Liverpool sloppy.
Mane, constantly involved in all the Reds attacks ought to have had a penalty around the hour mark. John Lundstram, a boyhood Liverpool fan, fouled the forward in the box, but Anthony Taylor — perhaps noting Mane’s lack of appeal — waved play on. On second inspection, it was a clear penalty with the midfielder going through Mane.
The hosts manufactured an excellent chance when a trademark move, involving an overlapping centre half, prized Liverpool open. With time in the box, Fleck pulled the trigger but his shot was blocked by his international captain, Andrew Robertson, when it appeared all ends up that he would score.
It had the marks of a game that would be won off the bench, and Divock Origi, replacing Henderson, provided energy and thrust that had so sorely been lacking before his introduction.
Stationed on the left of a 4231, the Belgian was aggressive and forward-thinking and he provided the cross that had a hand in the only goal of the game.
The hero of Madrid clipped a cross int he box that Sheffield United headed clear. But the ball fell to Wijnaldum whose tame volley trickled into the net through the legs of Henderson.
On balance, the lead for Liverpool was probably a fair reflection of the game but the goal came in such cruel circumstances for a committed Blades side.
Sheffield United, with Fleck their attacking fulcrum, pushed forward in search of an equaliser. Most of their attempts at forwards moves were denied by the imperious Fabinho. However, Substitute Leon Clarke blazed over after he was found with a Kevin De Bruyne style whipped cross cum shot from Fleck.
The Blades did leave themselves defensively exposed in search of a goal, however, and Salah should have punished them for it.
A defensive lapse saw the Egyptian through on goal, but Henderson — making amends for his earlier error — was quick off his line and pushed a hesitant shot behind for a corner.
It was the last big moment in a game where Liverpool, despite not being at their best, showed character and resolve to seal an important win.
Liverpool team: Adrian; Alexander Arnold, Matip, van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane.
Substitutions: Origi for Henderson, Milner for Firmino, Oxlade Chamberlain for Mane.