EPL

Liverpool stalemate a boost to Manchester United's title credentials

By Sports Desk January 17, 2021

After a build-up dominated by talk of the danger of goal celebrations in the pandemic era, Liverpool and Manchester United did their bit to calm the nerves of concerned viewers on Sunday.

Two sides being tipped as title rivals this term simply eschewed goals completely as they produced a spectacle that didn't quite live up to the pre-match hype.

But, while there weren't exactly fireworks at Anfield, the 90 minutes did at least offer some insight into the championship credentials of two bitter rivals.

For Liverpool, it was another game that highlighted the true reasons behind their recent Premier League malaise.

Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez's absences continue to dominate analysis of the champions' performances, but it was telling that Jurgen Klopp's most notable selection looked to supplement his attack.

That saw Xherdan Shaqiri, whose two goals in one game against United in December 2018 means he has scored twice as many times in this fixture as Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, brought into midfield in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Unfortunately for the Swiss, he couldn't reinvigorate a front three whose struggles have gone under the radar as a result of the focus on those defensive injuries.

Having failed to trouble the scoresheet in successive Premier League fixtures against Newcastle United, Southampton and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side, Liverpool are on a three-game scoreless run for the first time since March 2005.

But this latest streak is all the more criminal given the wealth of talent at the manager's disposal, particularly when it is compared to Milan Baros and an ageing Fernando Morientes.

How Klopp must regret using Diogo Jota in that dead rubber against Midtjylland in December - a decision that ultimately resulted in him turning to Divock Origi in search of a goal here.

By contrast, Solskjaer had an embarrassment of riches on his bench and made use of them in bringing on Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood as he searched for a breakthrough.

That both players were used said a lot about United's performance, which incrementally improved throughout to the point that they looked the likelier winners as full-time approached.

Yes, they had been forced to dig in during the first half but, as former United captain Gary Neville pointed out on commentary for Sky Sports, that is exactly what even the truly great sides he was part of were expected to do at Anfield.

And, when Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba were denied only by Alisson brilliance in the final 15 minutes, another Alex Ferguson-style smash and grab on Merseyside looked on the cards.

In the end, Liverpool held on, ensuring both sides were left with a point that did little good to their hopes of claiming the title this term but plenty for Manchester City's.

Pep Guardiola's men have a favourable run of fixtures approaching and an opportunity in the aftermath of this stalemate to truly take hold of the race at the summit.

However, of their two rivals, it is United who will feel they did the most on Sunday to convince observers that they will be the closest challenger to their neighbours as the season wears on.

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