Liverpool moved within two points of fourth with a 2-0 victory away to Sheffield United.
Goals from man of the match Curtis Jones and a deflected Roberto Firmino drive gave the Reds a richly deserved win at Bramall Lane.
Were it not from the heroics of Aaron Ramsdale in the hosts’ goals, the defending champions — who had eight shots on target — would have won by a much healthier margin, which would have reflected their dominance.
With Alisson given compassionate leave after the death of his father and with second-choice goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher ruled by injury, Jurgen Klopp elected for Adrian in goal, and the Spaniard wasn’t overly tested by the Blades.
Unsurprisingly, the Reds dominated the opening exchanges — all except for a David McGoldrick header from a free-kick that was straight at Adrian — and they should have made the dominance count on the scoreboard when Sadio Mane’s flick sent Firmino through on goal.
The Brazilian attempted to clip the ball over the keeper, but Ramsdale saved and the visitors spurned a brilliant opening. The home team’s keeper continued to be busy as the half wore. He used his feet to save a right-footed Mohamed Salah shot and he also denied Georginio Wijnaldum — parrying away the Dutchman’s shot and giving Firmino a rebounded chance that he should have scored from — and Trent Alexander Arnold with two strong stops.
Jones also worked Ramsdale when Alexander Arnold’s arching first-time pass found his fellow academy graduate in the left-hand channel, but the Blades’ keeper was quick off his line and smothered the 20-year-olds shot.
Bar a few long balls into the channels for McGoldrick and Ollie McBurnie that tested Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips, the bottom-placed United didn’t threaten and the teams went into the interval level.
The second half began in much the same fashion; the Reds dominant and the home team sitting in and hoping to launch counters with long balls.
With Thiago and Alexander Arnold prominent in the build-up, Liverpool continued to turn the screw and they were rewarded for their persistence only three minutes into the half.
A patient passing move saw the ball worked to the right-hand side and Alexander Arnold — who just about kept the ball in play, as confirmed by VAR — hooked the ball into the box and into the direction of Jones. The young midfielder’s first touch was delicate and he steadied himself before hitting a shot low and hard and past Ramsdale for a deserved lead for the away team.
Liverpool continued to pour forward and they found the killer goal with twenty-five minutes remaining. Deft combination play between Mane and Firmino close to the visitors’ box saw the Brazilian weave his way away from pressure and find the space to work a shot. The drive deflected off Kean Bryan and wrongfooted Ramsdale on its way into the net.
Salah was evidently hungry to join in on the goalscoring act and the Egyptian should have scored when Jones teed up Robertson to cross and the Scot drove a venomous ball across the face of goal that Salah met but could only steer wide when he would have expected to score.
As it was, it didn’t matter in the end and the Reds held out for a deserved win.
Liverpool team: Adrian; Alexander Arnold, Phillips, Kabak, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Thiago, Jones; Salah, Mane, Firmino.
Replacements: Naby Keita for Jones, James Milner for Thiago.
Subs not used: Origi, Shaqiri, Oxlade Chamberlain, Williams, Williams, Ojrzynski, Hughes.