'Precious point will calm the mood for Man Utd'

Mon, Dec 18, 2023
By editor


MANCHESTER United and manager Erik ten Hag would not have chosen Liverpool and the newly extended Anfield as the place to staunch wounds inflicted by a week of abject misery at Old Trafford.

Ten Hag’s future and the very fibre of Manchester United came under increasing scrutiny after a heavy beating at home to Bournemouth in the Premier League before a shambolic Champions League campaign came to a close with defeat by Bayern Munich.

And with a lengthy injury list accompanied by constant reminders of last season’s historic 7-0 thrashing at the hands of Liverpool here last season, it almost seemed damage limitation might be United and Ten Hag’s objective.

There was even talk from some United supporters before kick-off that avoiding that sort of harrowing humiliation could almost be painted as a moral victory.

Instead, in a mediocre game that will be quickly forgotten by many, United’s depleted side demonstrated that they were fighting for their beleaguered manager by earning a point in a battling 0-0 draw that will seem like a victory, halting Liverpool’s run of 11 successive home wins this season.

No-one could seriously suggest United were the better side as Liverpool had 34 shots on goal and 69% possession, but this was a display of resilience with none of the shameful capitulation seen at Anfield in recent seasons.

United stood firm for a draw and even had a clear chance of their own in the second half only for striker Rasmus Hojlund, still seeking his first Premier League goal, to make it too easy for Liverpool keeper Alisson to save at the near post in front of the Kop.

Ten Hag and his team have been easy targets in recent times so it is only right to acknowledge how they fought here in the inevitable periods of Liverpool pressure, right down to the wire when unmarked substitute Cody Gakpo missed a good headed chance at the end. They were reduced to 10 men in the closing seconds when Diogo Dalot was sent off for dissent but it too late to be of significance.

United may even revel in the rather sour reaction of Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk, who trotted out the old “there was only one team trying to win” line. This is all very well but, given United’s circumstances, Van Dijk can hardly have expected United to throw caution to the wind, effectively setting up to let Liverpool win.

He would be better served looking at Liverpool’s own shortcomings rather than offering a sideswipe at United.

It was, self-evidently, a rearguard action from Manchester United but it resulted in a precious point that will at least calm the mood around Old Trafford for a few days at least.

And it was done with many missing through injury, defender Harry Maguire the latest casualty, and without suspended captain Bruno Fernandes. Scott McTominay and the hugely promising 18-year-old Kobbie Mainoo excelled in the Portuguese’s absence.

This was the day Liverpool’s magnificent new extended Anfield Road stand, or the majority of it at least, was finally opened to the public, with the attendance of 57,158 the biggest for any home game since the FA Cup tie with Burnley in February 1963.

It was not marked by a gala occasion, the atmosphere actually quite subdued at times, Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold acting as a cheerleader to rouse supporters on a couple of occasions.

Liverpool attempted to mount the sort of late rally that has won them so many points in a highly promising first few months for manager Jurgen Klopp’s “reloaded” – his words – side but the spark was missing for all their dominance in possession and territorially.

Too much of their passing and finishing was wayward, with striker Darwin Nunez poor and Dominik Szoboszlai looking a little leg weary after his exertions so far this season.

Klopp flagged up his fears that too many people outside Anfield were expecting Liverpool to steamroller United after last season’s result and their struggles in this campaign. And so it proved on what was a highly frustrating encounter for manager and players.

Liverpool were never short of effort and endeavour but what was lacking was composure and efficiency even when they had United on the rack, allowing Ten Hag’s side to ride out the storm.

It was a missed opportunity for Liverpool, who have conceded top spot to Arsenal with the two sides meeting at Anfield next Saturday. They will be keen to set matters right then.

For United, it was a vital point gained and, as McTominay stated, Ten Hag will at least hope a building block has been put in place.

BBC sport


-December 18, 2023 @ 07:20 GMT|