MANCHESTER — Manchester United and Liverpool played out a tight, tense 0-0 draw at Old Trafford on Sunday.
United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had to make three substitutes in the first half through injury, while Liverpool never got going and lost Roberto Firmino through injury. Despite the drew, their third in their last four PL games, Jurgen Klopp‘s men are one point clear atop the Premier League table with 11 games to go.
Here’s a look at what we learned from an absorbing battle at a raucous Old Trafford.
[ MORE: Match recap | Stars + Duds ]
IN-GAME INJURIES HIT UNITED HARD, LIVERPOOL HARDER
Four players going off injured in the first half of a game must be a Premier League record. Manchester United have to use all three of their subs (including subbing a sub due to injury) was quite unbelievable and had a huge impact on the flow and outcome of this game. First Ander Herrera went off, then Juan Mata had to be replaced by Jesse Lingard and 18 minutes later it was Lingard who had to be replaced. That severely altered United’s gameplan as the Red Devils, already without regular starters Nemanja Matic and Anthony Martial for this game, had to be more pragmatic and had to rely on Alexis Sanchez, Andreas Pereira and Scott McTominay to take their chance to shine. They stepped up mildly, as Roberto Firmino’s absence, also through injury, seemed to impact Liverpool more than United’s trio of changes. The injuries disrupted the game and, all things considered, probably helped United out more. Liverpool just didn’t adapt to the formation and personnel changes and Klopp said as much afterwards. Marcus Rashford was caught early on by Jordan Henderson and never fully recovered, but he battled through at 60 percent. The fact Romelu Lukaku was shifted out to the right and Rashford stayed central suggested Rashford just didn’t the have the pace to impact the game. Injuries were the main storyline to come out of this game.
LIVERPOOL SETTLE FOR DRAW
As mentioned above, the loss of Firmino impacted Liverpool’s attacking fluidity as his replacement, Daniel Sturridge, didn’t get into the game at all. This was the first Premier League away game this season that Liverpool had failed to score in. Even before that Liverpool lacked their usual spark going forward and in the end they seemed more than content with a point at the home of their bitter rivals. In the grand scheme of things, this is not a bad result for the new Premier League leaders. Their lead is now just one point with 11 games to go and their toughest games remaining are against Chelsea and Tottenham at home, with a trip to Everton a tricky one to negotiate. Of course, Jurgen Klopp did show some intent to push for the winner late on as he brought on Xherdan Shaqiri for Jordan Henderson, but it was more of an afterthought. Liverpool would have taken a draw before the game kicked off, and aided by United’s injuries they never truly looked like there were going to lose this game. Not the performance Klopp wanted, but a result he can easily be content with.
SOLSKJAER SHOULD GET THE JOB FULL-TIME
Ahead of this game Solskjaer said he wouldn’t play mind games like Sir Alex Ferguson used to. But United’s caretaker boss couldn’t help himself and his words will be ringing in the ears of Liverpool fans across the world: “I have loads of Liverpool fans back home [in Norway] and every year is going to be their year,” Solskjaer said. “It has got to October and it’s: ‘OK, next year.’ Now they are in the race so for them, it is going to be an exciting finish to the league. That is none of our concern. We just have to concentrate on ourselves.”
And United must remove uncertainty about themselves as soon as they can and appoint Solskjaer. This United side are in the top four hunt, they are showing a hunger that has been badly missing. Defensively they were well organized with Luke Shaw locking down Mohamed Salah (he has now failed to score in four PL appearances for Liverpool against United) and Ashley Young doing a job on Sadio Mane, and had Lingard, Matic and Martial been fit, you would have fancied United to win this game. This was United’s second home clean sheet of the season and Solskjaer has now set a new record points total (25) for a manager taking charge of his first 10 games at a Premier League club.
The first line of the new favorite chant at Old Trafford sums it all up: “Ole’s at the wheel! Tell me how good does it feel!?”
Even though United failed to beat Liverpool on Sunday, Solskjaer set up, and adjusted, his injury-hit team smartly. United are on the longest current unbeaten run in the Premier League with eight wins and two draws from their last 10 games. And this draw will go down as another key hurdle passed in Ole’s quest to become the new full-time boss. The feel-good factor has returned to United and Solskjaer should now be given a long-term contract, and transfer funds to improve this side in midfield and defense. Given the way he has rejuvenated many of United’s stars he won’t need that much cash to kick them on to the next level and become genuine title contenders again. He has shown enough so far to suggest he is the right man at the right time to lead United.