Late goals were long Manchester United’s trademark. Alex Ferguson’s side were famous for them. Perhaps Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are acquiring the same reputation. Two weeks after James Milner’s 95th-minute winner against Leicester City came Adam Lallana’s 85th-minute leveller at Old Trafford. In the space of two games, Liverpool have gained an extra three points with their powers of recovery.
However, they have lost their chance of becoming record breakers. Their run of 17 successive league victories came to an end. Yet on a day when they trailed for 49 minutes and were stripped of fluency, momentum and the much-missed Mohamed Salah, a point represented a victory of sorts. It certainly did for Lallana, a player disparaged by sections of the Liverpool support and who had not scored for 29 months, even if he had spent much of that time on the treatment table. Yet he has long been a Klopp favourite and the manager’s faith was rewarded.
Lallana began on the bench but was summoned for the last 20 minutes and delivered a goal whose value may become apparent in May. The sense is that Liverpool’s attacking understudies are distinctly prosaic but Xherdan Shaqiri came off the bench to turn match-winner against United last season and Divock Origi was a catalytic force in spring. The Belgian was an unconvincing deputy for Salah but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was another influential substitute.
And Liverpool denied United a win that would have been a much-needed endorsement of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. His side have now only triumphed twice in 14 league games but seemed set for his finest result since March’s surreal, seismic triumph over Paris Saint-Germain. Solskjaer, whose credentials on such stages can be questioned, appeared to have outwitted Klopp, who was cutting a frustrated figure.
United’s goal was a product of Solskjaer’s strategy. He had used Daniel James and Marcus Rashford as wide strikers, looking to find room behind Liverpool’s raiding full-backs. It was partly a defensive gambit, seeking to restrict their influence and the one occasion United afforded them too much room, Andrew Robertson crossed, Roberto Firmino distracted Aaron Wan-Bissaka with his near-post run and Lallana was left free to finish, but initially it reaped a benefit.
James escaped on United’s right flank and delivered the kind of curling cross that David Beckham would have been proud of. Rashford was left with the simple task to beat Alisson, making his comeback from two months on the sidelines.
Klopp was understandably unhappy that it stood: Victor Lindelof clipped Origi’s shins in the build-up, albeit in the opposite half of the pitch, but it was not chalked off by VAR. A video review irritated Liverpool again on the stroke of half time when Sadio Mane had an equaliser disallowed, technology proving he had handled before overpowering Lindelof and finishing.
While United were boosted when Wan-Bissaka was passed fit to return, their injury problems recurred in the warm-up, with Axel Tuanzebe a late withdrawal with a hip problem. Marcos Rojo replaced him as United’s third centre-back as Solskjaer changed shape. He configured them to try and keep a clean sheet and they came agonisingly close.
The Norwegian packed the centre of the pitch and pushed his wing-backs forward in an attempt to inhibit Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold while Andreas Pereira followed Fabinho around. Otherwise, United defended deep, looking to spring quick breaks.
James was irrepressible and Rashford excellent. He has looked short of confidence of late but, perhaps aided by a terrific goal for England in Bulgaria, he was more purposeful and more potent on his return to club duty. He shoulders a considerable burden in a side when Ashley Young was the only other starter with at least four United goals, but he did so willingly and well and, with a 20-yard effort, came close to adding a second goal. So, twice, did Fred.
Yet that failure to double their lead proved costly. David de Gea had only had to make comparatively simple saves to deny Gini Wijnaldum and Firmino but Liverpool improved after Klopp’s switch to 4-2-3-1 and Oxlade-Chamberlain’s introduction.
Perhaps it was a case of drawing ugly, but this was proof of Liverpool’s resolve. They have only lost once in 48 league games. It was in Manchester, but not to United and not yesterday.