By Matt Ramirez – @Matt_J_Ramirez
Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool side reclaimed top spot in the Premier League after earning a point in a 0-0 draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
The result see’s Liverpool go a point clear of Manchester City, with both clubs now level in terms of games played.
Klopp made two changes from the side that drew with Bayern Munich in mid-week. Virgil Van Dijk reclaimed his starting centre back position which, in turn, saw Fabinho take Naby Keita’s spot in the midfield. The second and final change by the German manager saw James Milner return to the starting XI, being preferred to Trent Alexander-Arnold at right back.
The opening minutes of the game were a scrappy affair, with both sides seemingly feeling each-other out. Due to Manchester United’s recent attacking form, Liverpool’s usual high-flying full backs were advancing in a more reserved manner.
The same could be said for the home side, as a recent injury to Nemanja Matic saw youngster Scott McTominay brought into the fray causing the more senior United midfielders to try and protect the youngster through the opening exchanges.
As the match went on, Liverpool began to gain control but, despite having the bulk of possession, were unable to create any major goal opportunities within the first 30 minutes.
However, the same could be said about Manchester United, as Alisson, just like David De Gea still remained untested. In fact, the story of the opening half hour was very much injuries, with the constant forced breaks in play impeding the flow of the game.
Klopp was forced to bring on Daniel Sturridge in the place of Roberto Firmino, with Ole Gunnar Solksjaer having to make two changes of his own. Both Juan Mata and Ander Herrera went down, leading to the introduction of Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard.
The game continued to be stunted by stops in play, but both sides showed flashes of creativity – with Manchester United arguably having had the best chance to take the lead.
A misplaced Sturridge pass set United on a counter-attack which culminated in Jesse Lingard being put through one-on-one with Alisson. The Englishman attempted to round the onrushing Liverpool keeper, but the Brazilian got a strong hand to the ball, taking it out of Lingard’s path and saving his side.
This came at a great cost to Lingard, as he seemingly reaggravated his injury, causing him to be replaced by Alexis Sanchez for Manchester United’s third and final change in the 43rd minute.
As the first half came to a close, Old Trafford was eerily silent as neither sets of fans had anything to cheer for.
With a total of four substitutions having to be made, the game never really had a chance to flow leaving both managers looking ever more frustrated and clearly needing to change both of their tactical approaches.
Despite being away from home, the pressure was on Liverpool to pick up all three points as the teams emerged from the tunnel for the second half. Along with having had the bulk of possession in the first half, Klopp also had two substitutions still available to him, whereas his opposite number in the United dug out had none remaining.
After the first 15 minutes of the second half, neither keeper still had anything major to do. Much like the first half, Liverpool again had the majority of possession but struggled with the final ball which meant they failed to create any major goal-scoring opportunities.
Despite the half having more quality than the first 45 minutes, the game was still relatively scrappy, with both sides regularly giving away possession.
Having won the reverse game for Liverpool in December, Xherdan Shaqiri was brought on in the 70th minute by Klopp, as he looked to push for all three points.
Despite the attacking substitution by the Reds, it was United who had the ball in the net in the 75th minute but, fortunately for Liverpool, the goal was ruled offside. A Luke Shaw free-kick found Chris Smalling alone in the Liverpool box.
The centre back directed the ball across goal before it deflected of Joel Matip and into Alisson’s net. As Old Trafford roared in celebration, the linesman raised his flag, bringing groans and jeers from the home supporters but relief from Klopp.
In the final 15 minutes following the disallowed goal, the game continued in its average trend. Liverpool continued to have the bulk of possession but seemed to have a lack of ideas in the attacking third. This was epitomised by Sturridge, whose 40-yard first half shot was the only attempt the Reds managed to direct on target throughout the entirety of the match.
Despite being unable to pick up the win, Liverpool claim a vital point which sees them climb back to the top of the Premier League, one point ahead of Manchester City. Liverpool’s attention will now turn to Wednesday night, when they host an on-form Watford side who are undefeated in their last four games.