MANCHESTER — Like a rabbit startled in the headlights, Liverpool were at sixes and sevens throughout their draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Mohamed Salah was ineffective and hauled off. Roberto Firmino was injured. The midfield was cumbersome. United’s injuries confused the heck out of Jurgen Klopp‘s side.
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Against a United side which was missing two key players (Nemanja Matic and Anthony Martial through injury) and then had to make three subs due to injury in the first half, the 0-0 draw feels like a big opportunity missed for the new Premier League leaders.
Yes, they now have a one point lead at the top of the table but they’ve drawn four of their last five games in all competitions and their rampant attack has ground to a shuddering halt. This was the first away game this season they have failed to score in and the likes of Mane and Salah were off, while their midfield three couldn’t get a hold of the game amid United’s constant string of first half injuries.
Speaking to reporters after the game, Klopp was far from happy with the result but pointed at Bayern Munich last week and now Manchester United playing very defensive against his side.
“Of course there is pressure. Actually, from my point of view, it is very positive pressure,” Klopp said. “But I don’t have to play. I sit here and say dumb things. That is easy. The boys, we all have to learn in this situation. The only way we can do it is with passion. The heart and soul of this club is passion, that is what we do. Wednesday night we have another chance and then there’s a derby. They are always emotional games. Today it was a bit constructive, the game was here and there, we had to fight. But it was a different fight than we expected and we didn’t adapt exactly like we should have. But you can now say that is not ‘class’ or whatever, but we know where we are coming from. We know where we are now. Let’s make sure we use this situation as good as possible. We will see where it ends. Today was not brilliant. We lost here more often than we drew. It feels like we should have won.”
As for Solskjaer, you could argue this was another huge hurdle he has got over as he pushes to be named United’s new manager on a permanent basis. The way he reorganized the team on the fly given all of the injuries showed he has another string to his bow after big wins against Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham so far.
This performance lacked the attacking swagger and incisiveness of those displays, but it was the gritty underbelly which impressed him most.
Solskjaer was a little disappointed that his team didn’t take big chances in the second half to win the game, but given all of the injuries his side endured he was happy with how deep they dug amid major adversity.
“They dominated possession but we had the biggest chances,” Solskjaer said. “I don’t think it was a case of them not wanting to win the game. I think it was because we defended so well. They couldn’t get through. We should have, could have, won it, with the chances we have. We take it. Four clean sheets in a row domestically. That is fantastic defending.”
Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay were superb for United, the former locking down Salah and the latter shielding a solid back four, and United coped with a dire situation very well.
As well as their three first half injuries, Marcus Rashford should have been taken off for United but he had to stay on. Even though they were hampered on the pitch, United were driven on by their fans as Solskajer’s name was sung loud and proud throughout the game. The fans are certainly backing him to get the job, and understood the important role they had to play after a freak set of injuries disrupted the game.
“I’ve never seen the like of this before. Having three hamstrings in the first half, Rashy was kicked and did his ankle straight away. We should have took him off as well, but we couldn’t. Could we?” Solskjaer said. “We played with ten-and-a-half, but the fans made up for it. Rashy’s attitude made up for it to be fair. He worked the line well. We had to put him through the middle because we couldn’t risk them coming down the sides. It was a difficult game in that respect.”
United showed a different side to Solskjaer’s management and this draw against a Liverpool side who are top of the table was another feather in his cap.