LIVERPOOL, England-Manchester United are back in the race for the Premier League title and Sunday’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool at Anfield proved it once and for all.
Sometimes it was hard to watch two old rivals show too much respect for each other to lose and really fight for the win. United were also lucky once or twice, especially in a one-sided first half dominated by Liverpool. But the measure of United’s performance (and result) was that there was no cheering after the final whistle, no diving, no running away. Instead, they were disappointed not to have taken at least one of their chances in the second half to win the game and end Liverpool’s four-and-a-half-year unbeaten run in the league, which now boasts 68 games.
We scored a point and the boys are disappointed, said United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. With the chances we had, it was a missed opportunity, but we played against a very good team. I’m disappointed, but here’s the thing: If you win the next game, that’s fine.
We are improving and making progress, but we know we can still improve.
– Report: Liverpool, Man United 0-0 Draw
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United came into the championship with a plan and the confidence they gained from a 15-game unbeaten road streak – a streak that dates back to their last defeat here in January – and returned to the team bus with a clean slate and the best place left.
Error! The file name is not specified. Salah (in red) and Liverpool disappointed against ManUnited on Sunday and will regret not taking all three points to temper their growing confidence in the table. Paul Greenwood – CameraSport via Getty Images
The temptation in modern football, perhaps as a side effect of social media demanding that everything be bigger, better or faster than anything that has gone before, is to value only the development of a team’s excitement and appeal. On Sunday, United were rarely attractive or engaging, but solid and organised, and ultimately short on ideas and conviction – Liverpool failing to score in their third consecutive league game.
At the start of the match it looked like United were going to win. Had it not been for Alisson Becker’s two late saves in the final moments of the game, which denied Bruno Fernandez and Paul Pogba their chance, Liverpool’s long unbeaten run at home would have ended and United would now be six points clear of the defending champions.
With United on the rise again, Liverpool are pulling out of the side, which was really inevitable after last season’s record-breaking success.
When United left Anfield 12 months ago after a 2-0 defeat, they were 30 points behind Liverpool and apparently miles away from even thinking about a title challenge. A year later, United is at the top.
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Liverpool FC’s boys plunge into the difficulties of Liverpool’s attacking trio after the 0-0 draw with Man United.
This holder is still a symbolic ruler for both pens. When Mohamed Salah scored Liverpool’s second goal of the game last year to take it to 2-0, that was the moment everyone at the club began to believe the title was theirs – Anfield erupted into life as Salah lit the net on fire and they never looked back. There was no decisive moment on Sunday, but United felt they had crossed the Rubicon with their game against Liverpool at Anfield and come away unscathed.
Last season United were in a slump, leaving Solskjaer fearful for his job, and they played in panic mode at Anfield. But this time United put in a great effort, even if they had to withstand heavy pressure from Liverpool for much of the first half. Despite a flurry of shots and Liverpool’s possession, there was no panic – on the contrary, there was simply a confidence in the counter-attacking plan that left Klopp’s team frustrated long before the final whistle.
That’s the way United are playing at the moment and it has made them competitive again, but to take the next step they need to quickly find a way to be more in control in midfield and also be more clinical when they have chances to score.
Pogba again impressed for United – Harry Maguire was also excellent at the back – and pace and advantage were a constant concern for Liverpool, despite Marcus Rashford’s consistent failure to delay his runs and avoid the offside trap. It’s one of those subtleties that Solskiker and his coaches need to listen to, but compared to last year, these are small things that can be fixed pretty easily.
Mr Klopp must also consider adjustments and corrections with his team, but solutions are not easy to find because of the injuries and the fact that after nearly three years of progressive improvement, progress may have reached a ceiling. Next on the calendar is Burnley. Sean Dyche’s team travel to Anfield on Thursday before playing two tough games at Tottenham and West Ham. Liverpool are a team that could easily win all three of their games and banish the looming gloom, but with their current form they could also lose points in any of those games.
For Klopp, however, the story would have been different if the result had been Liverpool versus United.
If we had won 1-0, I would have thought we were OK, he said. You can’t deny Manchester United’s chances for 90 minutes. You never could. You’re in a good time.
With everything that was said before the game – they steal and we fight – my guys played well tonight. But we didn’t score a goal. It’s the most important thing in football.
United didn’t score either, but the 0-0 scoreline was a sign of progress rather than discomfort, and the confidence it gave them will only help their title ambitions.