A golden opportunity for either side to take a massive advantage in this season’s title race and to make a statement to the rest of the league went begging in the first North-West derby this year in an Anfield stalemate. Liverpool failing to score in their last three Premier League fixtures allowed Manchester United to stay top of the league for now with their inner-city rivals, Manchester City, having the possibility to overtake them should they win their games in hand.
Injuries continue to dominate the Reds’ season as Joël Matip was in a race for fitness before the fixture. A late fitness check proved that the Cameroonian was fit enough to play but the lack of training time left Jürgen Klopp with no choice but to rest his only recognisable senior centre-back with Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez out for the foreseeable future with long term injuries.
Once again Fabinho stepped into the role alongside Jordan Henderson. Xherdan Shaqiri made a return to the starting line-up after Klopp recognised his impressive substitute appearance against Aston Villa’s youthful side in the FA Cup and the ever-present ‘Front Three’ for Liverpool all started in what was their manager’s 200th Premier League fixture in the Anfield hot seat.
The home side got off to a good start with some early possession and a good chance in the 17th minute as Shaqiri set off Mané, beating the offside trap and ahead of Aaron Wan-Bissaka. With Victor Lindelöf back to support the full-back, the Senegalese striker opted to set up Firmino whose first-time effort on his weaker left foot was blazed into the Anfield Road end.
Being in control of the ball and creating chances, however, are two very different things. United frustrated Liverpool and had a chance to lead in the 34th minute after Shaqiri’s challenge on Bruno Fernandes outside the box led to a freekick the Portuguese attacking midfielder took and was only inches wide of the target in the top-left corner of the net.
One minute later it was Liverpool to reply with Mohammed Salah beating Lindelöf for pace. Harry Maguire closed the gap and the angle for a shot, Firmino was laid up again for a shot; same left foot, this time on target but tame and straight at David De Gea and wasteful once again.
With no goals for either side, the team who will have been most pleased at half time would have almost definitely been the visitors who will have expected some degree of Liverpool dominance early on. Restricting the home side to few chances will have pleased Ole Gunnar Solskjær going into the break.
Half time: Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United
The second half began with United getting a sight of goal as Anthony Martial put a pass-through for Fernandes on the left side of the goal but Fabinho slid in just in time to block the shot and protect Alisson from making a save.
De Gea was not required at the other end just 6 minutes later as Robertson charged down the left flank and fired his cross into the box, beating Wan-Bissaka and reaching Firmino but the shot could only make contact with Maguire to go out for a corner.
Shaw’s loose play at the back gave the ball back to Liverpool in the 62nd minute. Shaqiri to Firmino and the pass inside a rather congested penalty area to Salah gave little room for the Egyptian to wind up a shot and going for placement on his favoured left foot, the forward could only hit the advertising board behind the goal in front of the Kop.
By far the biggest chance of the game so far came in the 75th minute as Marcus Rashford was given the freedom of the left flank. Alexander-Arnold failed to track Luke Shaw’s run and the layoff was straight forward enough allowing the former Southampton player to cross into the feet of Fernandes whose shot was low and lacking in enough power to beat Alisson whose save with his left boot flew high and was cleared by Fabinho.
Thiago gave the Kopites at home hope of taking all three points in the 78th minute as the Spaniard dropped the shoulder, weaved in front of Fred and struck from 20 yards out. De Gea would have been disappointed to not save the shot that was close to him and at a comfortable height despite the power in the effort.
Then in the 83rd minute, it was down to Manchester United’s pantomime villain of their season, Paul Pogba, to have the best chance of the game. Wan-Bissaka’s shot got a knick off of Robertson which gave Pogba a comfortable set up for the shot inside the box and with one touch on his left foot to set himself and another from his favoured right for a thunderous shot the Frenchman went for all power at Alisson’s near post – once again the Brazilian came up for the Reds and denied United the winner.
The Red Devils came to Anfield, had some of the better chances of the game and may have deserved to win in the end if Liverpool did not have, arguably, the best goalkeeper in the league. At full time there is no doubt that the result was fair enough all things considered.
A draw may feel like a victory for United after their terrible record at Anfield with no points in their last two games in Merseyside’s red half, although that is now five games with no wins for the visitors in this away fixture.
Jordan Henderson believed he and his teammates did enough on the day to warrant a win with the chances they had – a statement with plenty of evidence to disagree about. Nevertheless, Liverpool remain in the top four and with Burnley at home as their next opponent, it will be the supporters hope that the recent goal drought will come to an end when they come up against the team sat 17th in the Premier League table.
Full time: Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United
Liverpool: Alisson (8), Alexander-Arnold (6), Henderson (8), Fabinho (8), Robertson (6), Thiago (7), Wijnaldum (6), Shaqiri (6), Salah (5), Firmino (5), Mané (6).
Subs used: Milner (N/A), Jones (6), Origi (N/A).
Man Utd: De Gea (6), Wan Bissaka (6), Lindelöf (7), Maguire (7), Shaw (6), Fred (6), McTominay (6), Rashford (5), Fernandes (5), Pogba (5), Martial (4).
Subs used: Cavani (5).
Man of the match: Alisson