While the 0-0 score line may suggest Sunday’s meeting between Manchester United and Liverpool was a dull affair, the game was fairly entertaining. Liverpool dominated possession but failed to test David de Gea at all, with the makeshift home team having all of the better chances.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side started the day without key players Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Nemanja Matic. Ander Herrera and Juan Mata were also added to the injury list, with Lingard being brought back too soon, only to last less than 20 minutes before having to go off.
It would have been easy for the crowd and the players to drop their head at this point, with three substitutions being forced before half-time, but the atmosphere at Old Trafford was easily the best of the season so far.
“You kept us going,” Marcus Rasford tweeted for the supporters after the game, with him being required to play the full 90 minutes despite picking up an injury, according to Solskjaer, in the first minute.
The away end was strangely quiet though, after disrupting the minute’s applause for the legendary United coach Eric Harrison, who passed away last week, with chants for their team. After the final whistle, they set off flares, seemingly saving their support for after the game had finished.
De Gea has been called upon regularly in big games over recent years, but he had nothing to do on Sunday. At the other end, Alisson wasn’t bombarded, but he had more required of him. The goalkeeper did incredibly well to get a hand to the ball as Lingard threatened to take it around him from a few yards out, as any error would have resulted in a penalty or a goal.
The Brazilian had to pick the ball out of his net, although the assistant referee had his flag up for a marginal offside, and late on Chris Smalling was inches away from connecting with a cross that would have seen United claim all three points.
The league’s top scorer, Mo Salah, was anonymous over the 90 minutes after being marked out of the game by Luke Shaw. This is a role that Ashley Young has successfully played in every other meeting with the Egyptian. When Xherdan Shaqiri came on, the home crowd shuddered, with memories of his two deflected goals from earlier in the season. But like Mane, Firmino, Sturridge and Origi, he also failed to pose a threat.
United played most of the game with an outfield team consisting of Young, Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw, Pereira, McTominay, Pogba, Lukaku, Rashford and Sanchez. Had Liverpool supporters known that line-up before the game, they would have been rubbing their hands together, but their team failed to show up.
McTominay was named man of the match by the BBC following his brave defensive display, with him embodying the big game spirit of Darren Fletcher, with Solskjaer making the comparison between the two after the final whistle. The fellow Scotsman had been written off early in his United career, but had a knack of showing up when the pressure was on, and McTominay followed suit on Sunday.
The fact that United supporters are disappointed with just the point shows how far their team has come since their last meeting with their hated rivals.
They will be left to wonder what the outcome of the game would have been if they were with a fully fit squad, instead of the ad hoc line-up that finished the match.
While they haven’t derailed Liverpool’s title hunt, they have thrown a spanner in the works, and that will have to do. But they won’t have much time to reflect on that, with a midweek game against Crystal Palace on the horizon.
United could potentially be without Rashford, Martial, Lingard, Matic, Herrera and Mata, which will really test Solskjaer’s ability to get the most out of his players. Palace are on a decent run too, winning four of their last six games in all competitions, including a home win against Tottenham Hotspur.
Solskjaer is currently unbeaten in the league after taking charge of 10 games, winning eight of those, and will need to maintain that sort of form if his team are going to claim one of the four Champions League places. Arsenal overtook them at the weekend after their 2-0 win over Southampton, and face mid-table Bournemouth on Wednesday.
But United supporters can start the week with their heads held high and full of optimism for the remaining few months of the season. Their players put in a great shift on Sunday and showed they are prepared to fight for the points. They will have to take that same mind-set with them in to the Palace game and Solskjaer will be confident that he can continue to instill that battling mentality in them.