For all the talk of potential change in the established order, there was no real change in this fixture, or any electrical charge. This was the third 0-0 between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield in five seasons. It’s a long time since it’s been a good game, so won’t tell us much about who it’s actually a good result for.
It also feels a long time since Liverpool scored, as this was the third Premier League game in a row where they failed to strike. By the time of their next match, at home to Burnley, it will be just shy of a month since their last goal in the competition.
Those blanks thereby leave the vacuum of a few questions. Perhaps the biggest is whether Manchester United will end up rueing this opportunity to assert their authority at the top of the table – especially with Manchester City looking so ominous again.
That does not just apply to the fact they had the better chances. You still wouldn’t say they were the better team on the day.
Liverpool maybe shaded it in terms of general play, but they were not especially impressive. It was a good time to play them, since they are not themselves, something you only have to look at the team sheet for.
Even there, though, there were a few curiosities and contradictions to this.
Liverpool had gone into the game concerned about their defence, in the complete absence of any senior centre-halves, but ended up keeping a clean sheet. By contrast, their front line had its full complement of stars but wasn’t at anything like full throttle. They actually, again, looked some way off it.
A theme of Liverpool’s games of late has been that attack making bad decisions, usually taking the wrong options or mis-hitting balls. There were so many examples here, from the otherwise supreme Thiago Alcantara overhitting one pass for Trent Alexander-Arnold after frustratingly perfect footwork, to Roberto Firmino not sending the ball over to Andrew Robertson when the left-back was completely free.
Again, though, the way this Liverpool team is built means it isn’t as clear cut as one part of the team working and the other not.
The very fact Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba had such good chances reflected a certain sloppiness in defence - that was actually evident in both sides – and it was only Alisson Becker’s brilliance that kept that clean sheet. There is at least no doubt about his form, or quality.
Along the same lines, Fabinho illustrated he can be brilliant in almost any position, on this occasion with a magnificent marshalling of one Marcus Rashford counter. The way he shut down the forward’s break and manoeuvred him wide was up there with any great defender you can think of.
The double problem for Liverpool was that needing to put both Fabinho and Jordan Henderson at centre-half denied the side their dynamism in midfield. It still feels like this is a source of so many of their current problems. They just aren’t as frenetic, or pressing to the same level, which means that attack don’t have as much to work off. They don’t have the same number of breaking balls, or free space. It is as if the three forwards have to toil for everything so much more. The main memory of Salah from this game was trying to work his way through bodies, to little effect.
The main problem for Liverpool, meanwhile, is that they had few chances of note. That’s the biggest concern that should linger after this. It is something they need to snap out of soon, or the chance at retaining this title might well go past them.
This is also the main reason United may end up ruing the draw, more so than those missed chances. This might have been a big chance missed in terms of form.
Liverpool have been at a low ebb – maybe their lowest in over three years – while United have been on good form. There are no guarantees it will stay that way.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side did grow into the game, and grew in confidence from an initial containment approach. The early stages actually reminded of Jose Mourinho’s dismal defensive approach for the 0-0 here in October 2017, before becoming a more identifiable Solskjaer display.
There’s also the fact that a 0-0 away to your rivals – and particularly the champions at that – does not mean the same thing as it did in October 2017. It is again a fundamentally solid result, especially this season.
The number of distortions mean it is going to be nowhere near the points threshold of 2017/20, when it felt anything other than a win in the title race was a huge slip. You only have to think of Liverpool’s own 0-0 away to Everton in March 2019.
This season, just holding your ground in such games may mean you make many more gains in the long run.
At the same time, we still don’t really know where United stand as regards the long-term. They remain top of the league after this result, yes, but there is still that suspicion it will be difficult to sustain and will fall off. Jurgen Klopp himself reflected this with one spiked comment, talking about how it was said his side are struggling and Solskjaer’s are flying.
That is the main significance of not winning.
A victory here would have eroded so many of those suspicions, as well as conspicuously serving as their first big-six win this season, something that has gradually become a growing issue of its own. They still don’t have one of those, and it remains to be seen whether they will still have the same psychological momentum after this. A win here would certainly have furthered that momentum. It would have been a statement.
As it was, it didn’t say that much at all. That’s fine on the day, but may leave them wondering over the course of the season, especially if they do fall away.
This might have been the time to strike.
That remains to be seen.
As of now, we only see a 0-0, albeit a draw that actually had one big winner: Manchester City.