It was easy to see who was the happier manager at the end of the 0-0 draw between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was smirking from ear to ear. Jurgen Klopp was walking angrily towards the dressing room. His 7 point lead over Pep Guardiola and Manchester City has been reduced to 1 point. Perhaps Liverpool’s schedule is more promising on paper, but the momentum and the spark on offense seem to be severely lacking at the moment.
It was another top 6 encounter in which Mohamed Salah struggled to contribute. It was difficult to pinpoint anyone from Liverpool that contributed greatly on attack. Virgil Van Dijk was terrific as always. James Milner did well in the absence of Trent Alexander-Arnold, but didn’t provide menace on offense. The trio of Georginio Wijnaldum, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson dominated the middle of the pitch.
But the attack – the inaccurate Sadio Mane, the mostly absentee Daniel Sturridge (coming on for the injured Roberto Firmino) and Salah, created nothing. Liverpool were the better side, but the best chance in the match came from United, bravely saved by Alisson. Liverpool couldn’t find a way to really bother David de Gea, even with more attacking tools thrown to the pitch in the final minutes.
Alisson’s one-on-one save vs Lingard
Perhaps the mistake Klopp made came early – instead of putting Sturridge on the pitch, trying to maintain the 4-3-3 structure, he should have gone for creativity. Naby Keita hasn’t been a stellar success for the Reds, but his best match this season came against United. Putting him on the left, Salah in the middle and Mane on the right would have forced the hosts to shift their ranks as well, with far less flexibility to accommodate such a change.
But Liverpool didn’t really test Manchester United tactically. It came down to whether Mane and Salah will provide a spark in one on one situations – that never came.
The bubble of dominance Manchester United had was burst by Paris Saint-Germain last week in the Champions League. Solskjaer reacted accordingly, combined with injuries that forced his hand. Very little risque in his team selection and tactics. Perhaps it dropped his side to 5th after an Arsenal win, but it prevented a rare loss to his side’s fiercest rivals, getting a point in a match against a superior opponent.
The dream of making the Champions League remains for United, which is all the side can ask for after their horrendous Mourinho affair this season. For Liverpool, the dream of winning a championship is still in their hands, but the optimism of not too long ago is replaced with memories of painful failures, waiting to creep back in.