Manchester United maintained their unbeaten run in the Premier League under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer while Liverpool returned to the top of the table after the two sides played out a bizarre 0-0 draw at Old Trafford.
Solskjaer was forced into using up all of his substitutions before half time after United were hit with three injuries to Juan Mata, Ander Herrera and Jesse Lingard.
Before going off, Lingard had an opportunity to break the deadlock when he latched on to a ball in the six-yard box only for Alisson to pull off an exceptional save to keep the sides level.
Despite dominating possession, Liverpool were unable to capitalise on a weakened United side and both teams went into the break level.
While neither side had any clear cut chances in the second half, United had a couple of opportunities to pull ahead through set pieces but were ultimately denied by the linesman. Joel Matip’s blushes were saved in the 75th when his own goal was disallowed after Chris Smalling was deemed to be offside in the build-up.
Solskjaer will be the happier of the two managers especially given United’s injury woes. Jurgen Klopp cut a frustrated figure on the sideline throughout the match as he barked orders at his side but they were ultimately unable to gain what would have been an invaluable three points in their bid for the title.
A fitting tribute to Eric Harrison
On the day that Old Trafford said goodbye to their hugely influential former youth coach Eric Harrison, United had five academy players on the pitch after 25 minutes (Paul Pogba, Scott McTominay, Andreas Pereira, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard). The side’s spirited performance in the face of an unfolding injury crisis was a thrilling tribute to the club’s former youth coach. The academy players who finished the game were all in fine form.
McTominay had a solid game in place of the injured Nemanja Matic and the young Scot did well to keep up with his more experienced counterparts. Pereira replaced Herrera early in the first half and was a live wire in the middle of the park for Manchester United. His energy was infectious as the Brazilian relished the game and did his best to rile the home crowd up.
Pogba produced a lung-busting performance in the middle of the park. Although there were some question marks over his decision making in the final third, the Frenchman was dogged in his defensive duties and was a leader for his more inexperienced teammates. Rashford also put in an admirable performance. Despite picking up an injury after United had used up all their substitutions, the forward finished the game in visible discomfort and was still chasing down balls in the closing moments.
An honorable mention must go to Romelu Lukaku who worked tirelessly up and down the right wing throughout the game. Although Lukaku may not fit Solskjaer’s idea of a striker, the Belgian is making a good case as a right-winger and was very impressive on Sunday.
A disciplined defensive display from United
While much has been said of United’s attacking performances under Solskjaer, the Norwegian has also worked wonders with their defence. United have only conceded six goals in the League since Solskjaer took over in December of last year and were excellent defensively on Sunday.
Liverpool never really looked like carving open United’s defense the same way they did at Anfield in December. Smalling and Lindelof were calm and collected in the middle while Young and Shaw, who was the deserved man of the match, did very well to shut down the flanks and stifle the likes of Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah.
A very accomplished display from United’s defence especially considering the inexperience of McTominay and Pereira ahead of them in midfield.
United face an injury crisis
United were rocked by injuries to the Spanish duo of Herrera and Mata in the first 25 minutes while Roberto Firmino was replaced by Daniel Sturridge after twisting his ankle. In a first half that bordered on dark comedy for the Red Devils, Lingard, who replaced Mata, came off with an injury himself just before half time.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be worried about the depth and fitness of his squad as they continue their fight for a top-four finish especially with the in-form Martial and midfield-mainstay Matic already missing Sunday’s fixture due to injuries picked up against PSG and in training respectively. Some of the blame must be laid at the feet of United’s interim manager after he replaced Mata with Lingard whose fitness was in doubt before Sunday. Questions will be asked of why Sanchez was not brought on ahead of Lingard.
Mohamed Salah was a shadow of his former self on Sunday. The mercurial Egyptian was slow off the mark, unimaginative and sloppy in possession. To be fair to Salah, his poor performance was exacerbated by an equally disappointing performance from James Milner at right back and Liverpool’s midfield who failed to find the final ball into the front three on numerous occasions. Salah was eventually hauled off for Divock Origi in the 79th minute.
Liverpool’s title charge
A victory on Sunday would have been a huge statement of intent from Liverpool and they will be massively disappointed that they were not able to capitalise on United’s injury woes.
Klopp will be worried that, despite dominating possession throughout Sunday’s fixture, his side only mustered one shot on target. The German will need to get the likes of Mané, Firmino and Salah firing on all cylinders and try to recreate the magic his attacking unit are capable of.
Liverpool are just one point ahead of a resurgent Manchester City in the league so Klopp needs to galvanize his side going into their remaining fixtures if they are to clinch that elusive 19th title. Liverpool’s fixture list is relatively favourable to them but big games against Everton, Spurs and Chelsea will be the deciding factor in who wins the league this season.