It may have felt like Liverpool dropped two points against Manchester United at Old Trafford because of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s late equaliser, but the Reds should feel extremely satisfied with their efforts on Sunday afternoon.
In the end, they may have only come away with a point, but the performance was vastly improved compared to the 1-0 defeat against Southampton in the League Cup.
James Milner’s penalty put Liverpool in control of a match where both sides missed plenty of chances, before Jose Mourinho’s United eventually bundled their way to a draw, which was the right result overall.
Defensively, Liverpool coped well in the main with the pressure put on by United, from both an expansive and direct style that was adopted in the second half. Liverpool’s work-rate was at its best on Sunday, while Simon Mignolet justified Jurgen Klopp’s faith as his current first-choice goalkeeper by making a string of outstanding saves.
Room for improvement
Particularly on the counter-attack, Liverpool carried plenty of creativity, but at times did miss the pacey outlet of Sadio Mane, currently at the African Cup of Nations.
Moreover, despite Klopp’s menacing front three system of attacking midfielders, used to such devastating effect against teams such as Manchester City last season, they are not as clinical as top-class strikers and the Reds often need numerous chances to score goals.
Normally, because they are so good at achieving the former, they often out-score the opposition, but against United those key chances to either finish the game off at 2-0 or clinch victory late on were squandered. Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool’s only top-class striker, may have fared better with those opportunities, but his game is not well-rounded enough to suit Klopp’s style of play. Therefore, unless he improves his work-rate, he may struggle to even get off the bench.
Nevertheless, the draw at Old Trafford steadied the ship for Liverpool, as recent results and performances have been a little concerning, with injuries, absences and tiredness taking their toll.
Indeed, given the line-up on Sunday, with Trent Alexander-Arnold making his first Premier League start due to Nathaniel Clyne’s injury, Philippe Coutinho only on the bench and Mane and Joel Matip out due to contrasting international issues, Liverpool offered a hugely encouraging display.
They may still be winless in 2017, but Liverpool remain well-positioned for a title assault in the second half of the season, provided that they can maintain that high-energy, intense pressing style that has suited them so well under Klopp this season.
With ten of Liverpool’s seventeen remaining Premier League fixtures at Anfield, the Reds almost have the league title still in their hands, with the upcoming visit of Chelsea at the end of January colossal for their chances. Four points behind going into February, and the race is on. Ten points adrift, and it all becomes about securing a Champions League place – which would still be a fine achievement and represent progress for the club.
However, given Liverpool’s position, and lack of title challenges since they last claimed the crown in 1990, the Reds will be desperate to remain realistic contenders for as long as possible, and perhaps finally end their long wait.
Furthermore, in their remaining fixtures this season against the ‘Big Six’, Liverpool will only have one away clash, against Manchester City, with Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and even Everton all at Anfield. Many of these sides will also soon be involved in European competition again as the Champions League and Europa League resumes, while Liverpool’s fixture list is likely to revert back to weekly games once the Reds get through January and the League Cup semi-finals.
However, Chelsea will also possess this advantage, and Antonio Conte’s side has experienced few injuries or disruption, especially if the Diego Costa incident, their only issue thus far, can be sorted quickly.
Full squad needed
If Liverpool’s squad can return to full strength then they should be able to rediscover their best autumn form.
Matip remains a concern, due to the fiasco with FIFA and Cameroon over his absence from the African Cup of Nations. Together, Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan have covered in Matip’s absence and formed a solid partnership, but Klavan in particular is prone to a mistake and is not a viable long-term alternative, so Liverpool will be keen to have Matip back in the side as soon as possible.
Finally, Liverpool’s run-in this season looks good on paper, with their final eight games against Bournemouth, Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace, Watford, Southampton, West Ham United and Middlesbrough.
There is plenty to play for this season, and the opportunity for success is there if Liverpool can get back on their upward curve.
Sunday was a promising start.