This was a match that intrigued but couldn’t provide the quality to match. There was tension and intensity but no real opportunities for Manchester United to severely disrupt Liverpool’s title challenge, nor for Liverpool to strengthen it.
Was this an opportunity missed by Jurgen Klopp’s side? Most definitely, with United struggling to field 11 players consistently throughout the first half as injuries ravaged the hosts and the amount of possession that Liverpool managed to accumulate.
But then a goalless draw – another clean sheet for Alisson – was hardly a terrible result. It takes Liverpool a point clear of Manchester City in the standings but it is how Klopp’s side move on from this result and performance that will be the most important. With testing fixtures against Watford and Everton in the coming seven days, if Liverpool are still top come Monday week then it will have been a successful run for them.
Little joy for both attacks
This was billed as one of the most enticing matches between these two heavyweights for some years. By the end Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had maintained his unbeaten Premier League record as interim United coach and a dab-hand at continually shuffling his pack, although that was forced upon him.
It was the best atmosphere experienced at Old Trafford for quite awhile and had Chris Smalling been slightly more proactive to latch on to a swinging Romelu Lukaku cross or if it wasn’t for a superb singlehanded interception from Alisson to stop Jesse Lingard in his tracks, then the roof of this historic stadium would have practically come off.
It would not be wide of the mark to suggest that the hosts had the best of the goalscoring chances, albeit they were few and far between. Despite Liverpool’s keep-ball, they struggled to manoeuvre into dangerous positions and weren’t composed enough to dispatch the final pass. Consequently David De Gea was given an easy ride, Mo Salah was taken off early and Sadio Mane became increasingly frustrated and wayward.
Little imagination and creativity will begin to trouble Klopp
Liverpool lacked imagination and, in the end, the ambition to win this encounter. Far too early on, they elected to go long and lacked subtlety and precision. This will be the most concerning aspect for Klopp; the fact that Liverpool’s front three do not look like Liverpool’s front three. Daniel Sturridge was far from an adequate replacement for Roberto Firmino who went off with a rolled ankle and left Old Trafford on crutches. His movement and proactivity was missed once he’d departed.
Sturridge though did provide the visitor’s only attempt on target, a speculative shot from far out. This didn’t prove to be the goals-fest that some predicted. More dropped points for Liverpool will be felt heavily around Merseyside, as Liverpool seem to lack conviction when City are increasingly confident in their own ability. This was the latest occasion in which Klopp’s team struggled to assert themselves despite seeing more of the ball and having the more to gain.
In large part, United’s defence was the reason for the lack of goalmouth action and certainly made the point that they have also improved under Solskjaer along with the carefree attack he has instilled. Paul Pogba ran himself into the ground and displayed a selflessness that few will associate with him. Lukaku also chased lost cause after lost cause but came up against a sturdy trio of Andy Robertson, Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk – this was definitely a match for defensive destroyers as opposed to the attackers.
Klopp: "A point dropped and two points gained"
The promising start full of energy and intent lost its rhythm when the injuries began to arrive. “We lost the rhythm and didn’t get it back,” Klopp said post match. “We were in charge, we passed the ball around [then] we lost the ball in the wrong moments or passed it through the box but couldn’t keep the ball there.”
“When we started the game it was brilliant actually, we started exactly like we wanted to start: it was direct, we played in behind, we wanted to be there, we followed the ball, we pressed high and it was all really good. And then the injury crisis started. A lot of interruptions and things like that and it was obvious it cost us the rhythm.” The Liverpool manager wanted to remain positive and claimed that it was both “a point gained and also two points dropped.”
Solskjaer positive despite injury crisis
It was certainly a tough afternoon for Solskjaer as he spent much of the game sat next to Mike Phelan watching on, unable to impact through substitutions. Nevertheless he remained positive. “We played with 10-and-a-half but the fans made up for it and Rashy's attitude made up for it. He worked the line well, we had to put it through the middle because we couldn't risk coming down the sides, it was a difficult game in that respect.”
Scott McTominay, Andreas Pereira and Luke Shaw all impressed and will be placed with more trust as United’s injury crisis develops. "We’ve got some good kids coming through, so we’ll have 11 players on the pitch on Wednesday night. And luckily we’ve got two days recovery!”