After a messy lead-up to the match, where protesting Manchester United supporters threw bottles at a bus containing their own fans while chanting about murderers, the Reds put in a messy performance, once again giving themselves a mountain to climb by starting slow, once again making individual unforced errors, and once again conceding the first shot on target. All after Manchester City offered the opportunity to close the early gap by drawing on Sunday.
Man Utd weren’t that good, really. They didn’t press the Reds into making mistakes, they simply sat high and wide and waited for the mistakes to present themselves. Successfully. Then they made their own mistakes, putting two shots on their own goal, but were bailed out by a fortunately placed Lisandro Martinez and a game David De Gea.
Liverpool weren’t that bad either, the opening 20 minutes or so notwithstanding, and were able to get into the opposition area just about every single time they established possession in their half, but the lack of a focal point in the box — Luis Díaz and Mohamed Salah were too often too wide and Roberto Firmino too deep — meant that even well-worked moves rarely found their way to a player in a truly dangerous position.
After deservedly clawing one back, a legitimate late dash for the win never materialised, as gamesmanship and time wasting won out against a frustrated and hurried Liverpool offense.
: Not much to be happy about tonight, given everything, but young Harvey Elliott was once again a bright spot. The 19-year old was at the heart of everything the Reds created going forward, consistently making himself available, knitting play together or driving the ball forward at every opportunity, and generating end product, posting four shots and two shot assists in his 90 minutes.
Assuming he has fully overcome his ankle injury and stays healthy throughout the season, the former Fulham man looks set to be a key player for the Reds this year, as they attempt to dig their way out of the hole they find themselves in at the early stage.
Old Man Milner: He’s been a phenomenal servant to the club and remains a standard setter on the training pitch and in the club house, but James Milner is well past his best, and it shows. While he can still run forever, he just isn’t reacting or moving quickly enough at this point, leading to hurried touches and poor decisions, such as going to ground when staying on your feet would have been better. The 36-year old was dribbled past five times tonight, making zero successful tackles, the most glaring example a wild slide in his own box that took himself out of the play and unsighted his keeper, allowing Jadon Sancho to roll home the opener.
Of course, the plan probably wasn’t that Milner was going to play all that many minutes this season, but given the state of Liverpool’s midfield availability, he has to, and it’s becoming a problem.
Helth: Amid rumours that he’s demanding playing time in order to renew his contract, Naby Keïta reported as injured just before the match, taking Liverpool’s injury tally to an impressive nine first-team players, and seeing the Reds sport a bench with two goalkeepers on it.
The Merseysiders haven’t been anywhere near as bad as their points tally or position in the table would suggest, but the fact that they haven’t been able to — and won’t anytime soon — field anything resembling their best XI suggests that improving their position is also going to be much harder than could have been the case.
The transfer window remains open, and solutions are undoubtedly being looked into, but we would expect Klopp to attempt and ride it out with the crew currently at his disposal.
What Happens Next
The Reds host newly promoted Bournemouth on Saturday, with the Cherries coming off a 4-0 and 3-0 loss against Manchester City and Arsenal, respectively, then receive a visit from everybody’s favourite sportswashing project, Newcastle, on Wednesday. On paper, both great opportunities to halt the slide and begin gathering points, in reality, probably something much more stressful and unenjoyable.
Up the frustrating Reds!