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Rhian Brewster threat clear but Liverpool have a bigger Sheffield United problem to worry about

Liverpool face their first full Premier League match since Virgil van Dijk’s injury this weekend with the visit of low-scoring Sheffield United.

Chris Wilder’s men have netted just two so far this season in the league – against Fulham and Arsenal – so they might on paper seem like ideal opponents to ease the Reds into domestic life without their star defender.

But that is not necessarily the case, with Sheffield United’s biggest strength happening to align perfectly with what would appear to be the biggest weakness, statistically speaking, of Jurgen Klopp’s team in their five Premier League matches to date.

Often in possession of the ball, and rarely having to defend with their backs against the wall, Liverpool are not often tested too much by crosses put into the box, but that might not be quite to straightforward this Saturday.

So far this season, Liverpool have actually struggled in the air – even with Van Dijk in the side – while Sheffield United are likely to set up in a specific way in which to attempt to exploit that.

On the Analysing Anfield podcast, Josh Williams explained: “I’m a little bit more concerned about his partner because it is probably going to be Ollie McBurnie, who is really good in the air.

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“Van Dijk bossed him last season and a lot of their way to get up the field is a long ball to McBurnie. Liverpool still have a lot of players who are good in the air but McBurnie is more of a problem now.

“This, moving forward, will be a recurring theme, but at Anfield, it might be less so. You could do with Van Dijk in this game.

“So far this season, Liverpool are bottom of the league for aerial duel success – they have only won 40.5 per cent of the duels. Chelsea are top, winning 67.2 per cent. It’s quite weird because Liverpool finished second last season but it is still early.”

 

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One man who will hope to get on the end of a few knock-downs and find the back of the net at Anfield is Rhian Brewster. The 20-year-old will be keen to impress, no doubt, with Liverpool having a buy-back clause valid for the next three seasons.

Sheffield United have only scored twice this season in the league, drawing blanks against Wolves, Aston Villa and Leeds United, so a start for their new £23 million-man seems logical sooner rather than later.

Williams added: “Brewster could get his first start for Sheffield United at Anfield. He came on at Fulham with half an hour left and didn’t get a chance.

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“There were a few stray passes and he looked a little bit lost. Brewster is a poacher and he will put the ball in the back of the net when he is presented with a shot. It will be interesting to see if he starts.”

Only three players have attempted more headed shots this season and only four teams have attempted more crosses, so the Sheffield United game plan is clear.

Wilder’s men represent the first big test without the aerial prowess of Van Dijk, but there will be plenty more games of the sort to come.

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