If somebody had told Manchester United fans they were going to be disappointed to leave Old Trafford with a point on Sunday evening they would never have believed it. Going in to the game, many just hoped to avoid a humiliating defeat, with a loss seeming inevitable against a Liverpool side that had won every game they had played in the league this season.
But actually, a depleted United XI held their own on Sunday afternoon, with Liverpool only really getting in to their attacking best for the final 10 minutes. It was during this period they cancelled out the lead Marcus Rashford had given the home team, with substitute Adam Lallana earning a draw for the visitors.
Jurgen Klopp must have been licking his lips ahead of kick-off, believing this would finally be the day that he would finally be able to leave Old Trafford victorious, but it wasn’t to be. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got his tactics spot on and if not for a lapse in concentration at the back five minutes from time, United would have earned all three points.
In contrast, Klopp’s team didn’t really show up until the latter stages, just like their fans. The away end was packed with party balloons celebrating their six European Cup trophies, yet they were largely silent, only singing on repeat once the final whistle blew.
United fans were in good spirits though, with the newly introduced singing section in the Stretford End again doing their bit to improve the atmosphere. Anti-Glazer banners were present on Sir Matt Busby Way ahead of kick-off, yet there were still no chants about the unpopular owners inside the ground. The home supporters were clearly aware that they would need a 12th man today and did their bit to fill the vacuum left by the away end.
Liverpool supporters had seen a first half goal from Mane chalked off after VAR correctly identified that the forward controlled the ball with his arm in the lead up. Victor Lindelof can be grateful for that, after allowing Mane to get the better of him. The Liverpool player’s muted celebration was as much an indication of the impending VAR decision as David de Gea’s incensed reaction. Both knew it had to be ruled out.
VAR also had to check on whether Rashford’s strike should stand too, after suggestions that Lindelof had fouled Divock Origi at the other end of the pitch, but it was deemed there wasn’t enough contact for the goal not to stand.
Rashford has now scored 11 goals against teams considered as the traditional top six, with three against Liverpool and Chelsea, two against City and Arsenal, and one against Spurs, which isn’t bad going for a 21-year-old.
He has been on the receiving end of more than his fair share of criticism this season, with the injury to Anthony Martial and failure to replace Romelu Lukaku leaving Solskjaer to rely upon the youngster too much. He hasn’t been clinical enough at times but you can’t argue with his return in the big games. He looked back to his best on Sunday, following on from his brilliant goal against Bulgaria for England earlier in the week, with the manager claiming it was his best performance in the 10 months he’s been in charge.
Martial was a late introduction to the game and in hindsight Solskjaer would probably have been better off bringing on Mason Greenwood. The Frenchman hasn’t played since August and didn’t add anything to the game. There was the hope he could bring one moment of magic, just as he did in his debut for United against Liverpool back in 2015, but this was a big ask, particularly in a game like this, when he wasn’t match fit.
Still, United can be happy enough with the point, after pretty much everyone had predicted that they would be thrashed. Nobody had managed to take points off Liverpool this season, including teams like Chelsea and Arsenal, so during their worst start to a season for years a draw was a good enough result.
The challenge for United going forward is to replicate this sort of work ethic against weaker teams.
United weren’t brilliant but they looked a lot better than they have done recently. They were largely solid in defence and while they still didn’t create enough chances, they fought for the ball and looked more determined to get a result.
United supporters will remember plenty of occasions when they were the best team in the league and opposition teams would treat the fixture against them as a cup final, and come away with points. Those same fans will be keen for their team not to turn in to a club like that, who show up against Liverpool, only to drop points in their next game against Norwich.
Solskjaer clearly has a long-term vision for what he wants this team to be and Sunday afternoon showed they aren’t dead and buried yet. Liverpool fans had likely been hoping to sing about the Norwegian being sacked in the morning after the predicted mauling but, in contrast, the home supporters sang his name on repeat.
But their league position is still embarrassing and a long way short of where they need to be. Over the next month, the fixture list has been kind to them, on paper at least, so the players need to build on their performance against Liverpool and get more points on the board.Liverpool are 8/11 favourites to win the 2019-20 Premier League