Manchester United 0-0 Liverpool: Jurgen Klopp’s side return to the top but rue an opportunity missed

Mark Critchley
Old Trafford
Sunday 24 February 2019 16:59 GMT
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Daniel Sturridge reacts after a missed opportunity
Daniel Sturridge reacts after a missed opportunity (Getty)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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Liverpool return to the top but will rue an opportunity missed. Against a Manchester United side that lost three players to injury in the first half, Jurgen Klopp’s title challengers could not take advantage of their game in hand over Manchester City and were held to a frustrating goalless draw.

This was a highly strung game of strained hamstrings, with Ander Herrera, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard all lost to apparent muscle injuries inside the first half. Though Liverpool saw Roberto Firmino depart early on as well, United’s succession of injury problems gave them a golden chance to register their first win at Old Trafford in five years. They failed to take it.

And though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer failed to take three points from a Premier League game for only the second time in his caretaker spell so far, he will be the happier of the two managers with this result. United prevented their guests from creating a clear-cut opportunity, even if they struggled to fashion a few of their own.

Klopp, meanwhile, will know that many championship-winning teams over the years have taken maximum points from this part of Manchester on their way to glory. If Liverpool are to end their 29-year wait for a domestic league title, three points at Old Trafford will not be part of their success.

Both starting line-ups contained a surprise. For United, there was no Nemanja Matic, who fell victim to a training ground injury on Saturday and was replaced by Scott McTominay. For Liverpool, Trent Alexander-Arnold dropped to the substitutes’ bench, after suffering a difficult afternoon on this ground last season. James Milner filled in at right-back.

Liverpool saw the majority of the ball but created few chances in a fitful first half which was most notable for its four enforced changes. United lost both Herrera and Mata to injury inside the opening 20 minutes, with Andreas Pereira and Lingard their replacements. Fred, the third-most expensive player in United’s history, was left in reserve.

There was also concern for Marcus Rashford, who appeared uncomfortable after an early tackle by Jordan Henderson, but he stayed on so that Solskjaer did not spend all his substitutions. And whatever was happening to United, it was catching. Firmino departed on the half-hour mark after rolling his ankle, with Daniel Sturridge introduced.

This bizarre spate of injuries prevented any kind of rhythm from being established. The first-half’s only moments of genuine quality came shortly before half-time, when Romelu Lukaku brilliantly slipped Lingard through one-on-one. Alisson’s response was equally impressive, coming quickly off his line to block Lingard’s path and smother the ball.

Jesse Lingard came on only to come off again
Jesse Lingard came on only to come off again (Man Utd via Getty Images)

In the very next passage of play, once Liverpool returned the ball to the other end of the pitch, Lingard collapsed to the turf. He had suffered a recurrence of the hamstring injury which had threatened to rule him out of this game. 17 minutes after replacing Mata, Lingard exited stage left and Alexis Sanchez became United’s third and final change.

The staccato nature of the first half was best illustrated by the fact that there had been more substitutions than shots on target. The second did not fare much better. Backed by boisterous Old Trafford, a more purposeful United came into the game and threatened around the edge of Liverpool’s penalty area, though struggled to truly test Alisson.

At the other end, Liverpool needed Mohamed Salah to show up. A year or so on from him being shackled by Ashley Young on this ground, Luke Shaw did an excellent job of limiting the Egyptian’s influence, encouraging him to run down blind alleys before nipping the ball off his toes.

The feverish atmosphere brought about a tense ending of broken build-up and half-chances. Old Trafford briefly believed Joel Matip had scored an own goal, only for the offside flag to be raised against Chris Smalling. With just over 10 minutes remaining, the ineffectual Salah was substituted for Divock Origi.

In the closing stages, just before a Lukaku cross glanced wide of Alisson’s far post, the television cameras caught Salah reflecting on another unsuccessful afternoon at this ground. For now, it is a point and a place in the table gained but come the final analysis, Liverpool will hope this will not be ultimately remembered as two dropped.

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