The match statistics of this goalless draw at Anfield really make you scratch your head: Liverpool had 69% possession, 34 shots with 8 on target, 12 corners and yet, it ended and truly stung like 2 points dropped.
We were a world away from that famous corresponding fixture last season which needed only 8 attempts to yield 7 goals.
A “freak result” was Jurgen Klopp’s assessment last March but it makes us wonder if it was not equally freaky that Man Utd walked away with one point from this Sunday’s big clash, having produced 6 shots including precisely 1 on target and zero corner.
On the basis of each team’s recent form, the build-up talks gave the home side a quasi-certainty of not losing this one. Not to mention the extra motivation to win in order to reclaim top spot from Arsenal who had earlier won against Brighton while Man City had again dropped 2 points against Crystal Palace this time.
On the other hand, Man Utd came with a faint hope of not losing and it must be disappointingly said their supporters were the ones who could gleefully celebrate seeing their now not-so-high expectations being met.
After the last-gasp win at Crystal Palace last weekend, it felt like the stars were aligned for Liverpool who were riding high on confidence with a never-say-die attitude and with most of the senior players having a rare full week of preparation given a meaningless European game in midweek.
For their part, the visitors went through an embarrassing hiding at home against Bournemouth, an exit from the Champions League in which they ended bottom of their group and several absentees among their senior players. For them, it must have felt like the sacrificial lamb being inexorably dragged to the slaughterhouse.
However, all of this looked to have galvanized the Man Utd players into an “us against the world” siege mentality. With their not-to-lose game plan, they sat back and had nothing to show for in the first half except frustrating Liverpool.
Wide variety of attempts
The Reds flew off the starting gates with a flurry of chances inside the opening 20 minutes and already had 8 corners in half an hour.
On the 5th minute, a stretched Darwin Nunez narrowly failed to connect with a Mo Salah cross from the left.
Six minutes later, Kostas Tsimikas’ interception launched a counterattack at the end of which Dominik Szoboszlai fired above the Kop end goal.
Another six minutes and Ryan Gravenberch had a glorious chance but was unfortunately impeded by Luis Diaz. As Andre Onana fumbled to catch the ball, Mo Salah’s follow-up ended narrowly wide.
On the 28th, a Virgil Van Dijk header from one of the 9 corners in the first half forced Onana into pushing the ball above the crossbar.
As the clock ticked towards half-time, a Ryan Gravenberch on-target volley from the edge of the box was deviated into corner while a Salah shot from the same position was saved by Onana despite a deflection off Jonny Evans.
The second half would barely bring anything different apart from Man Utd’s unique shot on target by Ramus Hojlund which Alisson Becker true to his own self, imperiously saved on the 67th minute.
TAA tried in vain
Shortly before, Trent Alexander-Arnold probably had the best chance of scoring with a 20-yard shot which agonisingly curled away while Onana was strangely transfixed in merely watching the ball going narrowly wide.
Trent’s MOTM display was mainly crafted in that second half during which he denied Alejandro Garnacho a proper shot while going one-on-one with the Argentinian in VVD style on the 55th.
Nine minutes later, he launched Joe Gomez in acres of space down the right but the ensuing Salah shot was caught by Onana.
Deep in injury time, a free-kick by the Scouser was headed by Cody Gakpo that flew narrowly above the crossbar.
If the stars were felt aligned for Liverpool before kick-off, the match ended as anything but with a denied penalty claim after the ball had clearly hit Luke Shaw’s left arm which was ruled to be in a so-called natural position.
It was a disappointing end to a disappointing match in which Liverpool had the extra incentive of winning with the biggest crowd at Anfield in 50 years thanks to the partial opening of the renovated Anfield Road stands.
Alas, it wasn’t to be despite the extra noise from the enlarged home support and the perception that this Man Utd side was merely there for the taking. Onana’s kicking the ball directly into throw-ins on several occasions while under absolutely no pressure clearly demonstrates what we were dealing with.
This goalless draw has also provided ammunitions to some in the glass half-empty camp who argue that the Reds recently had the rub of the green and the luck would eventually run out.
Extracting wins from the jaws of defeat in the past couple of weekends perhaps masked the fact that the reloaded Liverpool is not yet that irresistible steamroller machine that would swat away anything on its path.
In fact, this would have been utterly surprising if we had already reached such a stage, so soon during the team rebuilding after that underwhelming last season.
But then if we go back to before this season was kicked off, who would not have taken the distinct possibility of Liverpool being top 2 of the table at the midway point of this campaign?