Liverpool and Manchester United shared the points at Old Trafford in an event that was characterized by no small amount of huffing and puffing but ultimately very little of the type of football these two clubs have been known to generate in this fixture.
It was a result that will not completely derail Liverpool’s pursuit of a league title, but it’s also a result from which Manchester City might draw some measure of encouragement. So far in 2019, Liverpool have not quite been able to replicate the ruthlessness that they displayed in December of last year.
Things got off to a frenetic start in Manchester. At least those opening minutes played out according to the script. A slack back pass from Ashley Young led to the slightly unusual sight of an indirect free kick in the United box. These situations tend to look more dangerous than they usually are, but even then James Milner’s resulting effort was particularly ineffectual. It was a sign of things to come from the right back filling in for Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Minutes later, young Marcus Rashford had a decent shooting opportunity after a lofted ball caught Liverpool slightly light in numbers at the back, but the England international’s attempt was gathered comfortably by Alisson, who put in a solid day’s work between the sticks.
There was some speculation before the match as to how aggressive Jürgen Klopp would instruct his side to be, given the hostile environment at Old Trafford and the still somewhat resurgent form of the hosts under Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Liverpool showed themselves to be selective in activating the press, frequently allowing the hosts to gather themselves in their own third.
Just before the first quarter-hour, the visitors were able to capitalize on a misplaced pass in United’s buildup, and found themselves pushing forward in numbers, but not for the first time on the day, everything deflated like a bad soufflé once Liverpool got near the opposition box. Wayward passes, lack of concentration, predictable decisions - you name it, Liverpool tried it.
Things were not aided by a rash of injuries that suddenly descended like an apocalyptic locust swarm. Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, and Jesse Lingard (who himself only came on as a substitute) all had to make way before the end of the first half. Elsewhere, Rashford was clearly not completely comfortable either. Liverpool did not escape this sudden blight: Roberto Firmino appeared to have rolled his ankle, and was replaced by Daniel Sturridge before the interval.
There were precious few moments of excitement. Joël Matip, filling in for Dejan Lovren, acquitted himself reasonably well despite one or two moments of panic which thankfully did not result in catastrophe. It was Matip’s mazy run from midfield into the hosts’ box that accounted for one of Liverpool’s more dangerous sequences during the half.
Not that United were rendered toothless by the numerous substitutions. They arguably had one of the best chances of the half when Romelu Lukaku cleverly found Lingard right in front of the Liverpool goal shortly before halftime. Alisson was quick to react, however, clawing the opportunity from under Lingard’s nose. To add insult to injury, it was Lingard’s final contribution of note before he had to be replaced.
It must have been particularly concerning to Klopp that United were able to seize the momentum when play resumed. Mo Salah had a muted day at the office, thanks in no small part to the attentions of Luke Shaw, who was more than up to the task. Sadio Mané once again showed verve and a willingness to take on defenders, but his passing in the opposition box left a great deal to be desired.
With Daniel Sturridge not really offering any threat nor able to close down space effectively, the attack stuttered. Time and again, the ball was rolled out to Milner on the right, with the eventual cross easily blocked or shepherded out for an equally disappointing corner. United looked very much in the ascendancy despite ceding possession to Liverpool. Even with Rashford at less than full strength, Solskjær’s side looked more dangerous on the occasions when they were able to break forward.
Apart from Alisson’s work in goal, some of the few bright spots for Liverpool came via Fabinho and Gini Wijnaldum, who were absolutely resolute in shutting down United’s bread-and-butter play. But without an additional presence to take some of the attention off Mané and Salah, it was very much a stalemate. Xherdan Shaqiri, who came on for Henderson in the 70th minute, wasn’t able to summon his usual late-stage magic, and it was curious not to see Naby Keïta at any stage given the patchwork United midfield.
A point then, from a difficult away fixture, is one way to look at this result. The major worry here is the flat play from the starters, not to mention the possible prolonged absence of Roberto Firmino. Liverpool certainly can do better than this, the question is how often will they be able to show that over the crucial weeks ahead?