Manchester United battle to goalless draw at Anfield as Liverpool blunted

By Sports Desk December 17, 2023

Liverpool’s failure to score for the first time since April cost them top spot in the Premier League as Manchester United secured a goalless draw to deny their arch-rivals a club record.

Erik ten Hag’s side succeeded where 34 previous opponents had failed in keeping out a team which finished the game with five attacking players on the pitch and Trent Alexander-Arnold playing as the central fulcrum.

The visitors offered little in the way of threat themselves as their goal drought on enemy territory extended to 507 minutes, stretching back five years, but they at least stemmed the bleeding which had seen them concede 21 times in the last five meetings home and away.

In that respect, the under-scrutiny United boss can take a crumb of comfort and their supporters will have been equally delighted to both deny Liverpool recovering top spot after Arsenal had moved ahead earlier in the day and also ending their 100 per cent home record.

Less impressive was Diogo Dalot’s controversial double-yellow card sending off in added time.

It is now just one win in six for the visitors and defensive performances such as this will not get them any closer to the top four.

Ten Hag also still has to find a way to unlock the potential of £72million summer signing Rasmus Hojland, who had United’s only shot on target in the 67th minute.

His Liverpool counterpart Jurgen Klopp will be even more disappointed, however, that his side did not convert their dominance – they had 34 shots in the game – into something more than a point.

After recent late escapes against Fulham and Crystal Palace there was no sting in the tail here, in fact there was very little sting at all throughout as Darwin Nunez never looked like ending a goalless run that has now extended to seven matches.

While Mohamed Salah turned and toiled, even his mercurial skills could not unlock a committed United defence which saw goalkeeper Andre Onana have one of his better days.

In front of their biggest attendance for half a century – 57,000 after the top tier of the Anfield Road stand was opened – Liverpool established their dominance in the first five minutes, winning a corner after 15 seconds on their way to 89 percent possession and two shots.

However, they failed to turn that into anything substantive after Sofyan Amrabat cleared a Kostas Tsimikas free-kick just yards off his own goalline and a stretching Nunez failed to reach Salah’s lobbed pass.

The pressure United were being put under was typified by Antony passing the ball out of play as intended target Dalot ran past him.

United’s narrow back four gave their hosts plenty of space out wide but although Alexander-Arnold and Salah regularly found themselves in those areas they were not effective enough.

Onana failed to hold a Luke Shaw half-clearance and Salah’s shot was deflected wide but did much better in tipping over Virgil van Dijk’s header.

Salah opted to shoot weakly instead of passing to the overlapping Tsimikas in a rare error of judgement which was reflective of a half which had plenty of shots, the most against United in the first half in five years, but little genuine threat.

In that aspect United’s plan was working and, after Alexander-Arnold, who made a timely challenge on Alejandro Garnacho as he bore down on goal, drove into the side-netting Klopp switched to a 4-4-2 with his hybrid right-back moving full-time into central midfield and Salah deployed up top.

It brought immediate change with Alexander-Arnold’s low drive just wide and Onana palming away a Salah effort and charging down a Luis Diaz shot.

In between the isolated Hjoland found the chest of Alisson Becker with just the keeper to beat.

United swapped Garnacho for Marcus Rashford while Klopp switched again, this time to a 4-2-3-1 with the attacking talents of Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott deployed.

However, the closest they came to breaking the deadlock was substitute Joe Gomez finding the side-netting.

Things ended on a bizarre note with Dalot’s fume for having a decision go against him resulting in two cautions within the space of a few seconds.

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