A missed opportunity for Liverpool.
Manchester United were hamstrung by injuries during Sunday’s tilt with Jurgen Klopp’s ranks but stood firm to earn a deserved point in an underwhelming 0-0 draw.
Despite their depleted resources, the Red Devils fired two more shots on target than Liverpool managed. The single accurate effort from the visitors – a long-range Daniel Sturridge dribbler that was easily corralled by David De Gea – will not live long in the annals of this rivalry.
Liverpool’s title chances have taken a hit. This was the Merseysiders’ highly anticipated game in hand, and all they could glean was a one-point cushion atop the Premier League after 27 matches.
Here are three takeaways from a disappointing affair between two English behemoths:
United destabilized by injuries again
The muscles of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad have more pulls than the cuffs of a raspberry picker’s favorite sweater.
Scott McTominay’s surprise inclusion in the starting XI was followed by the news that Nemanja Matic is expected to sit out the next two weeks, and United were given no respite when the action got underway.
Ander Herrera was replaced by Andreas Pereira after 21 minutes. Then, moments after performing an excellent sprint back and tackle on Mohamed Salah, Juan Mata slunk down the tunnel four minutes later. Mata’s replacement, Jesse Lingard, soon followed suit.
United used their final substitution in the 43rd minute.
All of this enforced upheaval occurred while Marcus Rashford winced his way through the opening half. Liverpool also fell victim to the Stretford turf, with Roberto Firmino switched for Sturridge just past the half-hour mark.
The cull was extremely unfortunate for United and happened just 12 days after injuries to Lingard and Anthony Martial against Paris Saint-Germain undermined Solskjaer’s plans in the Champions League round of 16.
The Norwegian shouldn’t invest in lottery tickets for the foreseeable future.
Liverpool lack creativity
Klopp pondered his options on the bench following a wayward shot from Georginio Wijnaldum almost halfway through the second stanza. Jordan Henderson was furious when he was the player sacrificed for the invention and industry of Xherdan Shaqiri, but the substitution was needed. Liverpool were worryingly flat.
With such a stodgy midfield of Henderson, Fabinho, and Wijnaldum, Liverpool never looked like registering on the score sheet. The flaccidity of Sadio Mane, Salah, Firmino, Sturridge, Shaqiri, and Divock Origi will likely garner the most attention in the British tabloids, but the overall lack of creativity was startling.
Only Fabinho and full-backs James Milner and Andrew Robertson produced key passes at Old Trafford.
“I can’t remember Liverpool having a chance. Even though they had possession, I can’t remember David De Gea making a save,” Solskjaer told the BBC’s Match of the Day post-match.
Liverpool have now scored one goal or fewer in five of their last seven top-flight matches. They scored two or more in 14 of their first 20 games of the campaign.
The league leader’s frontline looks blunt at exactly the wrong point in the season.
United better defensively under Solskjaer
Manchester United conceded 12 goals in the nine league matches Smalling and Lindelof previously started alongside each other. One of those matches was September’s 3-1 loss at West Ham United, in which Felipe Anderson, Marko Arnautovic, and Andriy Yarmolenko repeatedly exposed United’s jittery rearguard.
That defeat meant United were suffering the worst start to a league campaign in 29 years. Mourinho’s defense was crumbling. It was the beginning of the end for the Portuguese.
The United backline was a completely different proposition against Liverpool’s attack. Lindelof was the most impressive in the central defensive pairing, unfussily bludgeoning nine balls from danger and performing three tackles. Ashley Young was also an advocate of no-nonsense defending, hitting six clearances from the right-hand side of Solskjaer’s back-four.
But Shaw was the standout player at Old Trafford, helping Lindelof silence Salah by winning eight of his 12 duels and clearing on five occasions. Only Young and Paul Pogba touched the ball more times than the rejuvenated left-back did.
Solskjaer inspiring fine form from the likes of Pogba and Rashford has been met with praise, but how he’s strengthened what was a susceptible defense under Mourinho has been largely overlooked.