LONDON: Liverpool’s famed attack let them down on the day Jurgen Klopp the 10th manager to reach 200 top-flight matches for the Premier League champions.
A third successive league game without a Liverpool goal saw them held goalless held at Anfield by Manchester United who thus retained top spot.
United were delighted to leave with a point but equally happy to watch the stalemate would have been Manchester City who moved up to second place with a 4-0 in over Crystal Palace. Tottenham revived their own top-four challenge with a comfortable 3:1 win away to relegation-bound Sheffield United.
At Anfield the 175th league meeting between the old regional rivals saw United began with Paul Pogba on right of a packed midfield with Anthony Martial the lone central attacker.
As for Liverpool, injuries forced Klopp to withdraw captain Jordan Henderson into the centre of defence. He needed two men to fill the gap left in midfield: Xherdan Shaqiri made only his second start of the season and Thiago Alcantara made his first start at Anfield since his arrival from FC Bayern.
Thiago commanded midfield in the opening exchanges as Liverpool passed the ball around confidently though without troubling David De Gea. Firmino should have done better in the 17th minute than shoot wide when presented with a chance by Mane. Then Shaqiri had a shot deflected for a corner.
United, having survived the opening exchanges, switched Marcus Rashford from the left wing to the centre of attack and began to show more attacking intent on the transition. Bruno Fernandes was narrowly wide with a free kick as the first half ended goalless and with a sense of anti-climax for the champions.
Liverpool began the second half with renewed aggression but without effect. The match remained goalless after an hour when so Solskjaer showed his increasing confidence about the balance of play by sending on Edinson Cavani as substitute in place of Martial. The change was no surprise. Martial had been an injury doubt before the game.
A disappointment for United had been the failure of Fernandes to play a more decisive role in midfield. His passing had been below its usual accuracy. When United won a free kick after 65 minutes Fernandes ‘gave’ the shot to Rashford but the latter’s shot crashed into the Liverpool wall.
United then created the best chance of the game in the 75th minute. Luke Shaw provided the assist from the left and Fernandes’s close-range shot was blocked by the outstretched leg of keeper Alisson. At the other end Thiago forced a fine flying save from De Gea.
Alisson had to produce another fine save from Pogba as Liverpool brought on Divock Origi in search of a late winning goal. Instead the duel finished all-square for the sixth time in the clubs’ last nine meetings.
At least next Sunday there must be a definitive outcome when the teams meet again at Old Trafford in the FA Cup fourth round.
What they said:
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp: “I liked the game. I saw a lot of really good individual performances and the team performance was good. It was not the result we wanted but it was the result we got.
“The boys played a really good game against a well organised side. The first half we played exceptionally well, the passing was good, the positioning was good but we didn’t score.
“In the second half the game got a little more open but they had two big chances and Ali made two big saves but we could have used better the chances we had in the first half.
“There’s no easy explanation about the lack of goals. You have to keep going, try to ignore all the talk around you. Everyone wants to see goals. In a good game you miss a chance and it’s OK because the next ball you try again.”
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson: “We’re disappointed we haven’t got the three points because we did enough to win the game, especially in the first half. We just couldn’t find the back of the net. We know United are dangerous on the counter-attack and they had a couple of chances but I think we were the better team.
“Our problem at the minute is finding the chance for a clean strike in the penalty box but that can happen in football sometimes. You just have to keep going and you know it will all come right.
“Our performances have not been up to standard over the last few weeks but it’s a strange eason for everyone. We have to keep working hard so we’ll not stop. We always want to give everything out on the pitch and we will always try our best to do that and make things happen. There are still a lot of points to play for.”
United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: “We knew they were going to come out like a house on fire and we didn’t impose ourselves enough on the game. In the first half we didn’t connect enough passes. Towards the end I felt we could win this but it just wasn’t to be. The feeling of disappointment coming away from Anfield with only one point is a good feeling to have. It shows how far we’ve come.”
United captain Harry Maguire: “They started the game better than us but in the second half we were a lot better on the ball, created the best chances of the game and could have won it. Their keeper made two great saves. We wanted to win and you could see our intent in the second half. We’re disappointed we haven’t come away with all three points from a tough place to come.”