Wasteful Liverpool spurn points and lead of the Premier League in improbable Manchester United draw

Man United 2-2 Liverpool: The Reds miss the chance to go top despite a late Mohamed Salah penalty

Miguel Delaney
Old Trafford
Sunday 07 April 2024 19:18 BST
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, left, celebrates with Harvey Elliott after scoring his side's second goal against Manchester United
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, left, celebrates with Harvey Elliott after scoring his side's second goal against Manchester United (AP)

Two swings, many misses. Liverpool salvage a point at Manchester United but will know they left a victory on the Old Trafford pitch, as well as the lead in the title race. This almost farcical 2-2 draw ensured Jurgen Klopp’s side have fallen behind Arsenal on goal difference. The home crowd gleefully sang about the pressure getting to the German, but what was almost more remarkable was how his team wasted so many chances without any pressure at all.

United should have been beaten out of sight, having not even had a shot in the first half. It, of course, meant they were going to score with their first shot. Few could have imagined a shot like that which Bruno Fernandes produced. Kobbie Mainoo’s follow, to make it 2-1, surpassed even that. It also took the game to new levels of absurdity, as well as an element of narrative perfection to go with the accuracy of Mainoo’s shot.

That was just so in keeping with this error-prone, farcical game that it couldn’t quite end like that. There was another mistake in Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s foul, as Mohamed Salah at last just scored.

That made for an oddly unsatisfying ending, certainly unlike the raucous recent FA Cup tie this seemed to directly pick up from. It was summed up in how players from both sides seemed disappointed at the end. Liverpool, however, will feel it most. The hope for everyone else is that this is just the start of an equally chaotic title race that twists and turns.

Liverpool now have to make sure they don’t look back on this first half as the period when it ultimately went away from them. They had been that dominant. It was that ridiculous.

Luis Diaz powered Liverpool ahead in the first half
Luis Diaz powered Liverpool ahead in the first half (Reuters)

There were times in the first half when it was hard not to feel sympathy for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, of all people. Liverpool were cutting through Manchester United more easily than in the 5-0 that effectively sealed the Norwegian’s fate, but without the same end product.

It was almost as if they were so surprised by the amount of space that Erik ten Hag’s side were offering up that it put them off their own finishing. Liverpool didn’t have to play at the same pace, which seemed to take the edge off their game. There were so many oddly complacent moments in front of goal as they went through chance after chance to just shoot properly.

Maybe the most telling was Andy Robertson’s first-half opportunity. The left-back picked the ball up in the United half only to just keep… ambling forward. Robertson then just took a shot from distance that pitifully screwed wide, when he could have done anything else. Liverpool were mostly just putting the ball several yards wide or over Andre Onana’s goal. Even one seemingly spectacular save from Mohamed Salah was actually from a shot curling wide.

Their goal, which should really have been the levee breaking, was when there wasn’t time to think about any of that. Darwin Nunez directed a corner brilliantly with his head, for Luis Diaz to fire past Onana.

United weren’t doing much at all. They weren’t defending properly. They weren’t set up properly. They certainly weren’t attacking. That was summed up by a shot count that went to 15-0 to Liverpool by half-time. It was ridiculous, and in some ways the perfect set-up.

We all knew what was going to happen next. And, of course, that wasn’t going to be any routine piece of play.

Mere minutes after half-time, Liverpool were playing the ball around their half in the casual manner that the game encouraged but a mere 1-0 lead didn’t. Bruno Fernandes just ran onto it and whacked a swerving long-range shot beyond the stranded Caoimhin Keller. It was absolutely brilliant, but also utterly absurd.

Bruno Fernandes scores from long range with United’s first shot
Bruno Fernandes scores from long range with United’s first shot (Manchester United via Getty Images)

It still didn’t match what was to follow. United almost immediately followed their first shot with their second, as well as a second goal. Liverpool just about managed to claw the ball away. It was all a grand show of the importance of psychology and emotional momentum in football.

Mainoo had endured a difficult game in essentially trying to man what was an otherwise empty midfield. There were times when the match – and Liverpool’s attackers – seemed to just pass him by. He was never quite where he needed to be, even if it wasn’t his fault.

He then put the ball exactly where it needed to be. Picking up an attack on the edge of the Liverpool area, Mainoo then curled the sweetest effort around Kelleher and into the far corner. It took the game to new levels. It also should have been the perfect smash and grab, even if at home, but the way this match was going couldn’t allow that.

Ten Hag introduced Sofran Amrabat for Alejandro Garnacho, and United essentially invited Liverpool on. It led to several missed efforts from Klopp’s attack, but also a mistimed challenge from Wan-Bissaka. The narrative of the game seemed to suggest that Onana would save it. Salah, for his part, had no time for that.

He did what he couldn’t in open play and rather simply put the ball into the corner. It was oddly routine for a match that was anything but.

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