LONDON: If Liverpool miss out narrowly on their first league title since 1990 they may blame it on their goalless draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford. They can maintain their advantage over Manchester City by winning at home to Watford on Wednesday. But they really should have won the most fierce of north-west derbies.
United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had seen all his pre-match planning wrecked by the need to make three first-half substitutions and the need to keep injured Marcus Rashford on the pitch for the full 90 minutes.
The Red Devils were there for the taking. If Liverpool were ‘the real deal’ then they should have taken advantage and seized the three points. They were handicapped by their own injury loss of Roberto Firmino. But that was nothing compared with United’s handicaps. They created nothing and were fortunate in the last minute when Chris Smalling was a split-second too late to reach a right-wing cross.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, reflecting on his team’s fourth draw in their last five games in all competitions, said: “It was a strange game. We started really well. All the injuries in the game obviously cost us rhythm. It happened to us with ‘Bobby’ and that was a catastrophe. United played with a completely new midfield and three up front. We lost our rhythm and couldn’t get it back.
“It was a game without a lot of highlights – it was intense. On days when United are beatable you have to do it and we didn’t do it.”
United started with a double strike force in Lukaku and Rashford but Solskjaer’s pursuit of an early breakthrough proved a double failure. First they proved unable to break down Liverpool’s solid defence then suffered a rash of injuries. Both Ander Herrera and Juan Mata had to be replaced in midfield while Rashford suffered a recurrence of a thigh strain.
Liverpool had to call up Daniel Sturridge in place of Roberto Firmino but were the more lively attacking threat. To the fury of Jurgen Klopp, however, their final passes lacked accuracy and they failed to trouble United keeper David de Gea. At the other end it was not until the 39th minute that opposite number Alisson was brought into action, saving at the feet of Jesse Lingard.
United’s newly-arrived substitute strained a muscle in the attempt to score and had to be replaced himself. That meant a third United substitution in 40 minutes with Alexis Sanchez joining the game. Poor Rashford, at half pace, had no option but to struggle on.
At the start of the second half the game was wide open for Liverpool to press for victory. Instead United, with their fans behind them, not only resisted but embarrassed Liverpool themselves. Klopp responded by bringing on Xherdan Shaqiri, who had made the difference in Liverpool’s 3-1 win last December at Anfield, but to no effect.
United now appeared the more likely winners. Only a narrow offside decision against Chris Smalling saved Liverpool from conceding an own goal by Joel Matip. United saw their defensive resilience rewarded by Klopp’s removal of the ineffective Mo Salah and the weakened hosts ended the game on the attack. Solskjaer remained undefeated in the league while Liverpool were relieved to survive a game they should have won.
** Southampton missed a chance to escape the relegation zone after losing 2-0 at Arsenal. Henrikh Mkhitaryan created the opening goal for Alexandre Lacazette and scored the second himself.
Mesut Ozil made his first Premier appearance for a month as a second-half substitute to help Arsenal overtake Manchester United and move back into the top four.