£275 million of attacking talent miss the mark as Manchester United and Liverpool share a goalless draw at Anfield
For all the expectations of a brutally fierce ‘stakes-never-higher’ meeting between these two age-old rivals, Liverpool’s hosting of Manchester United fell into a cagey affair where outstanding defensive displays cancelled out either side’s attacking threats.
Few would ever have expected that United would come into this match above their North-West rivals in the table. The rise up the Premier League rankings has been meteoric, and the nature of it has been such that no one actually seems to know whether United can be seen as genuine title contenders – a test against the champions was to be the true assessment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s mettle.
Solskjaer faced glaring problems with inconsistency early in the season, but the Norwegian now appears to have found his most trusted eleven. The side has chemistry and evident quality, and yet there was still an inescapable awareness of being the underdogs – even to a Liverpool team that has found itself out of sorts.
This atmosphere expressed itself early in the game in the form of Liverpudlian midfield dominance, as Thiago consistently rode out challenges from Fred and Scott McTominay. The ex-Bayern Munich maestro was pulling the strings and causing problems for United, constantly settings attacks in motion.
The first resultant chance fell to Roberto Firmino, who did well to create himself space only to squander it. Xherdan Shaqiri, who scored two in Jose Mourinho’s final game in charge of United, also saw early chances as Liverpool failed to capitalise on their early dominance.
United’s inevitable counter-attacks began to find more purchase as the half wore on, forcing their way past the battle-heavy midfield only to come against the formidable makeshift pairing of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson. With no success in penetrating into the penalty area, players were left merely probing for a way through.
The hesitant attacks posed little direct threat, but fouls were drawn in the process and it was from a free-kick that United had their best opportunity of the half. Bruno Fernandes struck a ball that seemed to be headed over, only for it to dip expertly yet agonisingly wide of the post.
😩 Inches away.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 17, 2021
Liverpool had failed to strike while they were at their strongest, and the contest was opening up.
Half-time: Liverpool 0 – 0 Manchester United
Anfield has played host to countless barnstorming Liverpool victories in recent years, yet there was little to suggest that it was that same Liverpool team that took the field against Manchester United.
The hosts’ passes were sloppy, and they lacked the ruthlessness in attack that has blown so many teams away in the past. Forwards were left isolated in the box, and Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelöf dealt well with the repeated forward crosses.
United had marginally more success. Fernandes stabbed at a brilliant cross from the heroic Luke Shaw only to be met by a sturdy goal-line block from Allison, a half-chance that went painfully begging.
Rashford burst forward soon after. Racing towards goal with the substitute Edinson Cavani in support, Rashford simply never made the killer pass and the chance fizzled away.
The last, and perhaps best chance for United on the night, fell to Paul Pogba. Aaron Wan-Bissaka somehow managed to squeeze the ball through three tight defenders to feed Pogba, but the Frenchman’s stinging effort was straight at Allison and troubled the Brazilian ‘keeper little.
Always hungry for more 💪🏾 pic.twitter.com/9qGW2hHsyc
— Paul Pogba (@paulpogba) January 17, 2021
As the game drew to its inevitably goalless conclusion, both sides accepted a point from a tight game. There was to be no smash and grab winner for United, and no chance to crush the spirit of a fierce rival.
A missed opportunity perhaps, but it would be foolish to turn a nose up to this result. The draw maintains the three point lead over Liverpool, and ultimately it will be United that can draw more heart from this performance.
Now it’s time now to turn our attention to more local feuds. Manchester City have risen all the way back to the top of the table, and if United really are going to push for the title this season, it will be their noisy neighbours that they will have to best.
Full time: Liverpool 0 – 0 Manchester United
Man of the Match: Luke Shaw