MANCHESTER: Liverpool’s club record winning run is over but a 1-1 draw at Manchester United kept them a comfortable six points clear of Manchester City in the Premier League.
Jurgen Klopp’s European champions will be relieved with that despite failing to equal the Premier League record for 18 consecutive victories set by Manchester City in 2017-18.
Even the draw was a major relief for United. Their slide into the bottom half of the table had raised questions about the future of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Yet recent history was on his side: United have now lost only once to Liverpool in their last 11 meetings.
United were happy to have David De Gea in goal after his groin strain injury while playing for Spain in midweek and England under-21 rightback Aaron Wan-Bissaka returned after almost a month out. However injuries still denied Solskjaer the use of leftback Luke Shaw, midfielder Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard in attack.
Liverpool were at full strength with the single exception of Mohamed Salah who injured an ankle against Leicester before the international break. Divock Origi took his place in attack while Alisson returned in goal after being injured in the opening win of the season over Norwich on August 9.
United made a lively start, encouraged by the knowledge that Salah was not lurking upfield to hit them on the counter-attack. But their dominance of possession created only one shooting opportunity for Scott McTominay which did not test Alisson.
Firmino, in a rare Liverpool raid sliced a left-foot shot high and wide, then he side-footed a soft shot straight at De Gea after a high-speed break down the right wing by Sadio Mane.
United showed Firmino how it should be done in the 36th minute. James raced down the right and crossed for Rashford to score from close range. Liverpool protested that Victor Lindelof had kicked Origi in the build-up but, to the anger of Klopp, VAR supported referee Martin Atkinson in awarding the goal. It was Rashford’s fourth in the league this season.
Mane thought he had equalised eight minutes later but this time, after a VAR review, the ‘goal’ was disallowed correctly because Mane had controlled the ball with his left hand.
Klopp ordered a tactical change at halftime, going from his usual 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 with Mane switching to his favoured position on the left and Origi going up front with Firmino dropped back behind him. When that failed to reap an instant reward Klopp replaced Origi with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Liverpool’s greater aggression also suggested that Klopp had employed strong words about his players’ complacent attitude in the first half. They pressed forward eagerly which offered United the prospect of chances on the break.
One such counter-attack saw Rashford drive a shot narrowly wide in the 66th minute and another led to a yellow card for Fabinho after the Brazilian brought down the lively James.
Klopp, growing increasingly agitated in his technical area, made further changes by replacing captain Jordan Henderson and Ginio Wijnaldum with Adam Lallana and Naby Keita.
The switch paid off in the 83rd minute when Lallana stole in behind the United defence to prod home a left-wing cross from Andrew Robertson. It was the often-injured Lallana’s first goal for 18 months.