In the lead up to Liverpool’s trip down the M62 to face Manchester United, the usual trope about derby matches was trotted out quite frequently. When rivals face off, you can throw form and quality out the window as these games are usually tense affairs. Perhaps some generalizations are wide of the mark, but the so-called biggest match in football typically has produced dour and cagey affairs with both sides desperate not to lose. This was on full display last February as United fought fervently to deny their hated rivals to the west a win and 3 points…only to hand their cross-town rivals the league title. With Liverpool mounting another title challenge against City, the question was once again would Klopp’s men show their true league-winning bona fides and put an inferior team to the sword regardless of what badge they wore or would they miss another chance to lay down a marker by throwing points away to a team that can’t get out of its own way?
Well, the commentators and pundits may have been surprised by Liverpool’s tame efforts to start the match, but most Liverpool supporters probably were not. Hopes were high that the Reds would exert their will over a United squad shorn of quality and fitness, but the reality that Liverpool’s rotten history at Old Trafford would rear its ugly head again quickly set in. With Mo Salah out of the matchday squad completely due to some dastardly play from Hamza Choudhury – whose only elite skill seems to be injuring other players – Liverpool predictably lacked their typical cutting edge. The fullbacks were pinned deep, Origi had none of his magic from last season, and a midfield designed only to hold down the fort and provide little attacking impetus predictably failed to provide the missing creative element. Yes, derbies are often tense affairs, but would it kill Liverpool to have a go on the road against their rivals?
And then in the most stereotypical football fashion of the match, a golden wasted chance from Bobby Firmino was followed soon thereafter by United taking the lead. Martin Atkenson made up for a quiet start to the match by finally exerting his will on the proceedings when he swallowed his whistle despite a clear foul on Origi, which led to Daniel Jones getting the ball down the right wing with acres of space to feed in a lovely cross to Marcus Rashford’s waiting boot and then the back of the net. For a time, the travelling Liverpool supporters found themselves stuck in the sequel to Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, only this time they were stuck in Manchester watching the Reds throw another game away instead of waking up day after day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
AND YET…the Football Gods weren’t done toying with everyone’s emotions. After briefly waking up to score a Sadio Mane goal ruled off rightly due to handball, the Reds kicked around aimlessly for most of the rest of the match until Jurgen Klopp delivered the shrug emoji in living form that is substituting in Adam Lallana chasing the goal. What looked to be another moment in futility not seen since Kiev against Madrid turned into one of the comedy moments of the season as somehow, someway, Adam Lallana scored the equalizer to rescue a point and save face on an otherwise dreary afternoon. It wasn’t a match-winning goal, but if you can’t laugh at the irony of Adam Lallana of all people knocking in the equalizer to deny United the victory, then maybe football isn’t for you, mate.
Ultimately, how you look at this match really depends on how you look at life. Are you a glass half-full or glass half-empty sort of person? Would you rather draw having scored first but thrown away the lead or salvage a point desperately near the end? Do you prefer focusing on yet another stumble at Old Trafford or the fact that Liverpool are still undefeated 6 points clear at the top after 9 matches with one of their hardest fixtures of the season behind them? At the end of the day, do you want to focus on the positives or the negatives?
With the title race likely to go down to the wire, it’s easy to let your emotions swing wildly on each kick of the ball and every result as you never know what’ll end up counting in the end. But it’s a long, long, long season. It may seem like there’s too much time for things to go wrong between now and May, but there’s also tons of time for things to go right. Yes, drawing at Old Trafford to this sorry state of a United squad is frustrating. But based on present goal difference, if City are only 5 points better than Liverpool over the next 29 matches (which would require a greater feat than last season where they were only ONE point better than Liverpool over the full 38), then Sunday’s draw will be nothing but a distant memory as Liverpool end their title drought.
For now, United supporters can enjoy being nothing more than spoilers content to see their side deny points to Liverpool while rolling over for City in embarrassing fashion. They’ll have company from the Bluenoses, whose season also will amount only to how many points they can take off Liverpool. Meanwhile, we can look forward to Liverpool’s title challenge and Champions League defense rolling on. Worry about dropped points at the end. To paraphrase the legendary Bane: now is not the time for fear, that comes later…maybe.