BEVERLY HILLS, January 17, (THEWILL) – It was billed as a cracker of a match, the clash of the titans at the summit of the Premier League, two free-scoring sides with creative attackers that produce goals out of nothing and not a few expected at least one penalty in the highly anticipated match between defending champions Liverpool and league leaders Manchester United. But, on Sunday, the stalemated end proved to be more of a letdown than anything else.
With no goals to separate either side, United will sit comfortably at the top of the Premier League table for another week. It is possible that this result could still prove to be a significant contest in this season’s title race, but it was expected to be more entertaining than it actually finished.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s charges had the better openings which they were unable to fully exploit and were left to soak up plenty of pressure as the game evened out. The result will obviously satisfy the Norwegian manager more as the unbroken deadlock sees his side edge two points clear of Leicester City in second place on the log. The three points will certainly help United enhance their own belief in themselves.
The Reds of Anfield will be asking themselves some hard questions as their front three misfire for another Premiership encounter. Liverpool played two central midfielders at the heart of their defence against the marauding attackers of United, who would have fancied their chances against that makeshift backline, yet United ended up firing blanks.
What that will immediately make crystal clear to Jurgen Klopp is, far from the clamour for Liverpool to shore up their defense capabilities in the absence of mercurial Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk, that their highly-lauded attack has become blunted to the point of leaving their bid to retain the title in tatters.
This will be the third consecutive league game that the Reds have failed to score. The last time they managed such a woeful stretch was in 2005. Since the impressive signee Diogo Jota was sidelined by injury, it has tasked the skill of the previously unstoppable trio of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino to find the net.
Their 7-0 bashing of Crystal Palace aside, Liverpool have not been clinical in the final third as they used to be. It is a niggling problem that Klopp must address and remedy with immediate effect if they are to realise their lofty ambitions especially as the drop from the top has taken them down to fourth and teams are not willing to wait for them to get up to speed in attack.
As good as it was for United to keep their position atop the league, it must frustrate them that the clear-cut chances available to them to put the game away and move six points clear of Liverpool while bringing an end to their long unbeaten league run on their home turf went begging.
Yet, it is to their advantage that they are now unbeaten in 12 league matches. Their last loss was the almost forgotten disappointment at Old Trafford when they conceded a penalty that gave Arsenal victory on the 1st of November last year. This single point earned against Liverpool will evoke in United’s players the real belief that they can actually maintain their title push all the way to the trophy.
There remains a lot of football still to be played and Liverpool may well shake off the lethargic form in their attack and produce the kinds of goals they have been known for, just as the opportunity exists for other teams around these two like Manchester City, Leicester and even Tottenham Hotspur to seize their chance to go to the top but no one will argue against the Red Devils looking every inch like they mean to fight it to the very end.