LIVERPOOL 0 VS MANCHESTER UNITED 0: Spoils shared as anticipated Clash ends up in anti-climax
The result told the dismal story as Red Monday became Dead Monday. In the posh seats in Anfield’s redeveloped Main Stand, a father and son yawned as the clock ran down. School the next day would be more exciting than this game.
As for the man of the match, in these pages at least that goes to David de Gea, the Manchester United goalkeeper. However, do not let that fool you. Don’t think the Spaniard was some kind of comic-book hero, repelling waves of Liverpool attacks in front of the Kop.
Far from it.. De Gea just showed himself to be the best of a very bad bunch.
He was only asked to make three saves all night, while at the other end Liverpool’s Loris Karius was not required to make a single stop of note.
It just so happens that the two saves De Gea made in the second half were exceptional. So, for that he gets the vote here at the end of a game that promised so much but gave us nothing at all.
What, if anything, did we learn from this, apart from the fact other TV channels are available. Well, we know not to make assumptions about Jose Mourinho. But we knew that already.
The Manchester United manager came to Anfield amidst trepidation, according to some hysterical preliminaries. This was supposed to be the night when his stale, unimaginative football was eased into the shadows by Jurgen Klopp’s energetic, dynamic Liverpool.
That it didn’t happen should surprise nobody who knows anything about Mourinho. He has achieved too much in his gilded career, poured too much into his work, to submit to popular whim.
As such, he will have emerged from this night the happier man. Maybe the moral victory was his on an evening when Liverpool appeared unrecognisable from their usual selves for the first hour and only slightly better thereafter.
What was beyond dispute, however, was the lamentable quality of this game. Liverpool came to life late on, raising the volume at last. United, for their part, were the better side before the interval.
But there was no cut and thrust. No punch and counter-punch. The edge of the seat remained untouched. This was just a poor game of football.
And so to De Gea. His was, on reflection, the defining contribution, so we may as well start and end there.
Before half-time, the United keeper – not at his imperious best recently – had been reduced to spectator status. His side were reasonably positive and did not retreat or spoil.
Liverpool merely malfunctioned as first touches turned into tackles and passes missed their mark by feet not fractions. It was very strange indeed
But eventually, after United had failed to translate possession into chances, Liverpool did find a way into the game, and when that happened Mourinho needed his goalkeeper.
De Gea’s first piece of excellence came in the 59th minute. Seconds earlier, Liverpool had made such a hash of a free-kick routine that it was tempting to wonder if Klopp had forgotten to reintroduce his players to each other after the international break.
But from nowhere Germany midfielder Emre Can found himself in a yard of space in the penalty area and the door to goal opened a fraction.
The ball was stuck under his feet a little and this prevented the 22-year-old generating the power he would have wished for in his left-foot shot.
Still, it was struck firmly and accurately enough to put screams in the throats of Liverpool supporters, only for De Gea to drop low to his right and present a hand just strong enough to divert the ball away safely.
It was typical De Gea, in many ways. It spoke of his alertness and his agility and, more importantly, his ability to produce his very best when it matters.
Better was to come. As Liverpool found some impetus following the introduction of Adam Lallana and the promotion of Roberto Firmino to centre forward, United began to feel consistently threatened for the first time. On the fringes of that improvement was Philippe Coutinho and the Brazilian forward must have thought he was about to win the game with less than 20 minutes left.
His shot from 25 yards was perfectly struck, curling back from beyond De Gea’s left post towards the corner. But once again De Gea was equal to it, and with that save, plus a superb late tackle from Antonio Valencia on the breaking Firmino, United’s point was assured. And given the anxiety felt by so many associated with Old Trafford before this game, a draw was satisfactory.
United had come here with their honour on the line and they went home having suffered no further damage to confidence or reputation. With games against Chelsea and Manchester City ahead, that was important.
But what can we make of a game between these teams that featured so few goal-bound efforts by the home team and not one from the opposition? Funny to think that much of the talk beforehand had been about referee Anthony Taylor. He was exceptional and decisive here on a night when so many around him were drowning in uncertainty.
This was only the second scoreless draw between these clubs since 1991. At least back then not as many people would have been tuning in.
The game was far from Open..One team was more about not loosing ..but in the context of sports psychology a loss for United in their current state would have been a massive blow to their confidence.