Ahead of Manchester United’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday, those most involved with the visitors would have bit your hand on the offer of a point.
This is what they have. A share of the loot has preserved United’s position at the top of the table, means they have now spent an entire year without losing away in the Premier League and kept confidence high heading into matches with Fulham and Sheffield United – both of the biggest wrestlers in the division. Overall, this is a good result.
But for watching United fans and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, it’s hard to shake a sense of disappointment. It could have and perhaps should have been more.
United managed to keep a relatively toothless defending champion at bay without even being afraid, and could see that their plan was working given the post-match beards that occurred by the opposing manager. How dare Manchester United come to Anfield and stifle the strengths of their opponents? How dare they not allow Liverpool to score easily?
Jurgen Klopp’s explosions aside, it was clear that Solskjaer’s side came with the intention of winning this game – although the plan was to address the possibility later in the game. United successfully negotiated the first 60 minutes or so, but we may have seen exactly why this side won’t win the Premier League title this season in the finals – even though they are in first place after 18 games.
Manchester United have yet to gain the confidence to deliver when it matters most. It is this key quality that sets champions apart from contenders, which makes good world-class players.
Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba each pushed back decisive opportunities a few meters from the goal. They wasted in key moments and lacked composure when they needed it, and not just in those missed opportunities either.
Time and time again there were opportunities for that assist from behind to play in the middle third of the pitch or higher. But United rushed in at crucial moments and attempted the kill too quickly or too slowly, rarely at the perfect time. There was more chance to create outside of the more obvious ones that came and went.
Liverpool deserve credit for spotting danger and stopping United in their tracks, especially considering captain Jordan Henderson was chosen as center-back. At his side, Fabinho – easily overlooked as a named replacement for Dejan Lovren at center following his early-season sale – particularly shone. Perhaps this is a better point for hosts under the circumstances.
United, however, have grown throughout the season, learning along the way, and this game will give them the belief that they are firmly in the middle of a title race with a lot of potential yet to be realized.
Their plan was still there to capitalize on Liverpool and Manchester City stopping taking first and second place after the standards they have set in recent seasons, but United may be even ahead of schedule.
The current campaign may come too soon for them given the recent acceleration of local rivals City in recent weeks, but United are keeping pace and as it stands, the conversation is on. The next step is to capture the greatest moments, not to let them go.
This is what happened at Anfield.
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