It feels like we’re asking the same question over and over. A point gained or two dropped?
The fan mentality in us – the mindset that exudes hope and expectation – always consoles; to accentuate the positives and move on. A draw at Old Trafford is never a bad result we tell ourselves, and that point is a golden one since it keeps Liverpool top of the league.
However, the lingering sentiment is one of disappointment, frustration and a sense of missed opportunity even if the toughest remaining assignment before the finishing line has been ticked off. Manchester United, already depleted and shorn of three further key players before the break, were there for the taking but Liverpool were consistently too timid; lacking the fire and brimstone that has carried them into this position.
Reminder that Liverpool are top of the League having lost one game all season
Up the Reds ✊ pic.twitter.com/G6Hkg7uMfi
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) February 25, 2019
United’s supporters had whipped themselves into a frenzy, the prospect of derailing the Reds’ tilt at the title as delicious as raising a trophy.
Old Trafford isn’t the bear pit it once was but the mere sight of Liverpool is enough to raise Mancunian hackles and create an atmosphere that was reassuringly spiteful.
It matters not which of these two giants are the prevailing cock of the north for the fixture to always crackle with a rampant hostility.
It would be stretching the point to say that Liverpool wilted in the face of derision from the home crowd but after a promising start they were stymied by a lack of conviction. If there is a weakness in the mentality of Jurgen Klopp’s team it is that, away from home against opponents of some repute, they still seem shy to express themselves. Aside from the three defeats in Europe, in their quest to win at Chelsea, Arsenal and now twice in Manchester the Reds have failed to post a signature victory bearing the hallmark of Champions.
In a first half where United were content to cede possession, Liverpool wasted their two best chances. An early aberration from Ashley Young – his back-pass nearly seized upon by Roberto Firmino – saw David de Gea give away an indirect free-kick inside the penalty area. Frustratingly, James Milner’s attempt was smothered by the United wall. Later, after Joel Matip’s mazy gallop forced Ander Herrera to offend on the edge of the box, Mo Salah blazed high into the Stretford End.
Salah endured a humbling afternoon throughout; his trickery foiled by the muscular attentions of Luke Shaw. Such is the intricacy of the Egyptian’s play that when his touch and timing are even slightly awry, the effect is losing possession too cheaply and once too often Liverpool’s forays foundered on Salah’s profligacy.
The seminal moment of the match saw Alisson excel himself to deny United the lead midway through the first period. Romelu Lukaku’s reverse pass sent Jesse Lingard clean through only for the keeper to anticipate, advance and immaculately claw the ball away from the forward’s feet when he was primed to score or at least win a penalty. The admiration of the Liverpool fans was apparent in a thunderous round of applause for an outstanding piece of goalkeeping.
Lingard, Herrera and Juan Mata all limped off for United with Firmino also succumbing to injury before half-time. The disruptions robbed proceedings of any momentum but with Marcus Rashford also hobbling, Liverpool appeared to be clear favourites to press home the advantage in the second half.
However, with Daniel Sturridge a shadow of his former self, Salah still toiling and Sadio Mane also indecisive the Reds failed to muster any real impetus.
The United crowd, buoyed by Liverpool’s anaemia, grew in confidence and raised the decibel levels up another notch in the hope of a late winner. When Matip inadvertently stabbed into his own net, for a second it looked like United had found their moment of glory but a linesman’s flag cut the roars short in Mancunian throats and allowed the Reds’ followers to uncover their eyes.
At the final whistle, the home crowd appeared satisfied with the outcome even though Liverpudlians were able to remind them that while they still chase the pyrrhic victory of fourth place, the Reds remain top of the pile.
If Liverpool are to stay the course they must rediscover their attacking potency soon and with the home comforts of Watford at Anfield on Wednesday have the perfect opportunity to do so.
*Odds are subject to change