As you were as Manchester United stay top with Liverpool stalemate

Liverpool remain unbeaten at home and United undefeated away but the latter can derive more satisfaction from the fact

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Advantage Manchester United, perhaps. This was not the statement result to propel them into the position of title favourites, but they retained their three-point lead over Liverpool. They denied their rivals the momentum victory would have given them.

Liverpool remain unbeaten at home and United undefeated away but the latter can derive more satisfaction from the fact. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team ensured David de Gea rarely needed to excel to keep a clean sheet and United allied their resistance with some of the brighter moments of a relatively dull game.

Liverpool’s Premier League goal drought has now spanned 348 minutes. They lacked incision and the capacity to overpower teams that Anfield used to give them. This was not Jurgen Klopp’s team at their exhilarating best and it was tempting to hark back to last January, when a raucous crowd willed them to victory in the same fixture.

It remains United’s last away league defeat and their regret may be that, despite creating the game’s best chances, they could not find a breakthrough. Alisson Becker produced the two finest saves, denying Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba in the second half, and perhaps had United showed more ambition earlier, they would have inflicted Liverpool’s first home league defeat since 2017.

Solskjaer sprang a surprise by using Anthony Martial on the left, Pogba on the right – perhaps only his fourth-best position – and Marcus Rashford as a striker but the Mancunian, who was lavished with praise by Jordan Henderson in the programme, was limited to seven first-half touches by Liverpool’s centre-back partnership of two midfielders. Henderson brought solidity while Fabinho underlined that, for a makeshift central defender, he is a very fine one, halting Martial when the Frenchman was in full flight and sliding in to block Fernandes’ shot.

United only had one-third of possession, and less still at the start. Initially marginalised, the catalytic Fernandes almost proved decisive. While Liverpool had attempted eight shots before United mustered their first, it was agonisingly close as Fernandes whipped a free kick inches wide. But when United assumed the initiative, the Portuguese latched on to Luke Shaw’s low cross with a first-time shot that Alisson did well to repel. The Brazilian made an equally good block from Pogba but United now only have one goal in six visits to Anfield and even the introduction of Edinson Cavani did not change that.

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But Liverpool had a greater imperative to win. They were nine points ahead of United in November and could not cancel out a deficit. Not for the first time of late, they lacked sharpness.

This marked the belated home debut of Thiago Alcantara. The summer signing dictated much of the game but without finding the defence-splitting pass that would have added an extra dimension. Instead, he unleashed a long-range thunderbolt that De Gea parried.

Liverpool had the majority of shots and yet few of their chances were clear-cut. Solskjaer had preferred Victor Lindelof to Eric Bailly in his defence and that choice was justified by their dependability. There was an early impasse until Roberto Firmino skewed a shot wide as Liverpool applied pressure without bombarding the United goal. Firmino’s finishing was undistinguished and the one effort he managed on target was tame. Harry Maguire did enough to put him off when Andy Robertson delivered an inviting cross.

Xherdan Shaqiri scored twice in this fixture two years ago, finishing off Jose Mourinho as United manager, but could not quite stage a sequel, despite two long-range efforts. Mohamed Salah volleyed over and had another shot deflected wide. Sadio Mane was quiet and, once again, Liverpool could lament the absence of the injured Diogo Jota as well as the loss of more points.