Liverpool find themselves third in the Premier League table after a 0-0 draw with Manchester United at Anfield.
Despite dominating the game in terms of shots, possession, and territory, the Reds failed to make the most of their ascendancy and test David de Gea in the visitors’ goal. The result means that the Champions have now gone three games in the league without scoring, the longest in Jurgen Klopp’s tenure in charge of the team.
United were content to sit deep and frustrate the hosts but had two late chances of their own through Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba but Alisson — who was a spectator until the 70th minute — comfortably saved both.
Electing to pick Jordan Henderson at centre half beside Fabinho, Klopp selected a midfield full of technical qualities. Georginio Wijnaldum was the anchor with the dual playmaking threat of Xherdan Shaqiri and Thiago Alcantara — making his Anfield debut — ahead of him.
It was clear from the opening of the game what each team’s respective approach was. Liverpool were keen to dominate possession and to play the game in United’s half. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s men, meanwhile, sat in a compact deep block defence and looked to go long on the counter-attack on the rare occasions those opportunities arose.
With Thiago pulling the strings, the home team manufactured some early, albeit relatively unthreatening openings, but each of these attacks ended with the ball at the feet of Firmino. The Brazilian frustrated throughout and failed to pick out Andy Robertson in promising positions twice, instead electing to shoot and missing twice.
As is par for the course this season, refereeing inconsistencies reared their ugly heads. With a minute added on at the end of the first half, Thiago’s beautifully weighted through ball sent Sadio Mane — who timed his run to perfection to remain onside — hurtling in through on goal. However, referee Paul Tierney had blown his whistle five seconds early and United escape into half time unscathed on the scoreboard.
The second half followed much of the same pattern, but with the visitors looking braver with the ball as the game went on. The introduction of Edinson Cavani added to their firepower and Fernandes — a mere spectator in the first half — became more prominent.
Liverpool made changes of their own, with Curtis Jones replacing the quickly fading Shaqiri and Divock Origi replacing Firmino. The alterations didn’t work as desired, though, and the Reds had no answer for United’s deep block defence.
A rasping Thiago drive and a searching clipped volley across the face of the goal were the biggest moments the tired-looking hosts attacks could muster with Mane and Salah — with the Egyptian especially poor and peripheral — ineffective without space to run into.
For all the talk of how injuries in defence could ruin the Reds’ title challenge, it could well prove that the absence of Diogo Jota could be the final nail in that particular coffin. The Portuguese’s sharp movement and ability to strike off both feet or meet crosses with his head has been sorely missed.
It ended in a draw and the real winners this weekend, pending a likely victory over Crystal Palace, will be Manchester City.
Liverpool team: Alisson; Alexander Arnold, Henderson, Fabinho, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Thiago, Shaqiri; Salah, Firmino, Mane.
Replacements: Jones for Shaqiri, James Milner for Wijnaldum, Origi for Firmino
Subs not used: Kelleher, R.Williams, N.Williams, Phillips, Oxlade Chamberlain, Minamino.