Liverpool and Manchester United drew 0-0 at Anfield with David de Geas stunning save from Philippe Coutinho ensuring Jos Mourinhos side left with a point
There was blood and thunder, as there always is in this fixture, but there was also a fair amount of thud and blunder. After all the hype including a non-stop 12-hour build-up on one Norwegian channel the latest meeting between these old rivals certainly fell short, no matter what it showed us about how the modern-day Manchester United are evolving and where Liverpool still need to improve.
This was not one of those occasions when Jos Mourinho could face allegations of unremitting negativity. His team did, however, play with the structure and organisational qualities that are automatically associated with their manager when it comes to category-A fixtures. This was a tough, obdurate performance from what Jrgen Klopp described as a very physical, strong team and it is difficult to know the last time a United side had as little as 35% possession in a Premier League match. That figure is the lowest since Opta began collating statistics in 2003 and that alone should guide Uniteds supporters about what they might have to expect occasionally under their new manager.
Mourinho seemed reasonably satisfied but, equally, he was exaggerating when he said United controlled the game tactically and emotionally and again when he mentioned David de Gea was on holiday for nearly 90 minutes. De Gea did not have a great deal to do but his night did incorporate one of the outstanding pieces of goalkeeping the Premier League will witness all season. His save from Philippe Coutinho one-handed, at full length, in front of the Kop left the Brazilian holding his head in disbelief and Klopp applauding on the touchline. That is how he plays when he plays us, Klopp noted afterwards of Uniteds goalkeeper. Last year was similar. He loves games against Liverpool.
That save can certainly be added to the list of occasions when De Gea has spared United over recent seasons but it was not the only occasion that made Klopp grimace afterwards and it needed a brilliantly executed tackle from Antonio Valencia to deny Roberto Firmino the possibility of a late winner.
These, however, were extraordinary moments in an otherwise ordinary match and if it was true, as Mourinho pithily observed, that Liverpools attack have been acclaimed as the last wonder of the world, this was not a night when that became apparent. Coutinhos usual refinement was not always there. It was unusual to see Sadio Man make such little impact and Daniel Sturridge was substituted after a difficult hour. Sturridge, to give him his due, came up against two resilient centre-backs in Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling and Klopp made the point afterwards that there was not a great deal of service for the striker.
The early pressure that might have been anticipated from the home side never really materialised and it quickly became apparent Liverpool were not going to have the freedom to dictate the tempo as they had in their previous Anfield fixtures. The game, Klopp noted afterwards, was played more in the way that United would have wanted than his own team. Everything can feel very rushed in these fixtures and sometimes it is not such a bad thing to have a player who puts his foot on the ball. The game was very hectic, Klopp said. We couldnt get rid of the hectic pace. When you have the ball you have to calm down, immediately. We wasted a lot of energy, for nothing really.
Plus this is a different United team to the ones we are used to seeing. Physical-wise, they are stronger than we are, Klopp said. Taller, too. Klopp also talked about knowing his team would need to guard against a lot of high balls once he saw the United line-up, with Wayne Rooney starting on the bench for the fourth successive match.
In the end, Liverpool can be satisfied with their first clean sheet of the season and though Mourinho called it a very positive performance, the truth is United created very little after an encouraging start in which Marcus Rashford looked lively and Zlatan Ibrahimovic seemed intent on playing a prominent role.
Uniteds best opportunity came 10 minutes into the second half when Paul Pogba, playing in a slightly more advanced role than usual, eluded Jordan Henderson before crossing to the far post. Ibrahimovic had an awkward angle to negotiate but a striker with his reputation still ought to have done better with his headed chance.
Otherwise, Liverpool were emerging as the more likely winners but even then, Henderson and Emre Can usually hung back rather than joining the teams attackers. One exception almost led to the breakthrough when Jol Matip strode elegantly forward and played the first pass of the night to open up the United defence. It took an age before Can, surrounded by opponents, took aim and De Geas one-handed save, low to his right, was the first reminder of the goalkeepers brilliance.
The second, from Coutinho, had Anfield howling in anguish but Klopps praise for the opposition goalkeeper was mixed with criticism of his own players for not being telling enough with their passing. We had 65% possession but you have to do more things with it, he complained.
Instead, the most positive aspect, perhaps, was that nobody could argue the referee Anthony Taylors performance was crucial to the result, despite all the scrutiny on the Altrincham-based official beforehand. Taylor made a few mistakes and was reasonable without being immaculate but the same could be said of both teams on a strangely subdued night.