In what was potentially one of the most important matchups between Liverpool and Manchester United in recent years, Jurgen Klopp’s Reds travelled to United for the second time throughout the German’s tenure at the club. With United sitting in 6th and Liverpool finding themselves 4th in the table with just 5 points separating the two sides, the clash at Old Trafford was a must-win for both teams.
Going into the match there was a stark contrast between the two sides’ run of form, on the one hand United had won their previous 9 games and gone undefeated in their last 15. Liverpool, on the other hand, had failed to win a game since New Year’s Eve when they overcame the blue side of Manchester in a 1-0 win at Anfield.
Between the African Cup of Nations, injuries and FIFA’s farcical ineptitude, Klopp was unable to field what would be his strongest XI to face Jose Mourinho’s United, most notably handing a full Premier League debut to academy graduate Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Throughout the first 30 minutes the clash between the two sides was a relatively even contest, with both sides creating chances for themselves, United coming the closest as Dejan Lovren sold Simon Mignolet short with a backpass, seeing Zlatan Ibrahimovic very nearly give his side the lead as a deflected shot landed on the top of the net.
However, after a closely contested affair for the first goal, it was the visitors who made the breakthrough just before the half hour mark as Mike Dean awarded a penalty to Liverpool after £89 million man Paul Pogba handled the ball in an attempt to clear from a corner, a nightmare for the former-Juventus man who just minutes earlier missed a one-on-one with Mignolet. Full-back James Milner converted the resulting spot kick with great compusure to break the deadlock, making it 1-0 to the visitors.
Despite going a goal down, a resilient United side pushed back against Liverpool, coming close on two occasions to grabbing an equaliser, only to be thwarted by a resurgent Mignolet who produced two top-class saves to deny the hosts.
Ibrahimovic came close for the second time that half as his low-driven free kick from 18 yards was met by the safe hands of Belgian keeper Mignolet. Then, only minutes later, Pogba took advantage of a lapse in the Liverpool defence’s concentration, sliding a ball through to Henrikh Mkhitaryan, although the Armenian’s effort was thwarted by the advancing Liverpool keeper who stood his ground to keep his side in the lead.
After a hard fought first 45 minutes of football it was Liverpool who would go into the break leading thanks to vice-captain, James Milner.
The second half began with Mourinho introducing former Evertonian Wayne Rooney in place of vice-captain Michael Carrick and looked very much as if a repeat of the first half for both sides. The two rivals played a high intensity contest throughout, a stark contrast to the fixture at Anfield whereby Liverpool dominated a defensive oriented Manchester United side.
The first chance of the second period fell to United as Anthony Martial took advantage of a mistake from Alexander-Arnold and broke free. The Frenchman displayed great vision to find Ibrahimovic who, in turn played Mkhitaryan through, though the in-from United man pulled his shot wide of the target.
Liverpool had their share of chances too, with Divock Origi having a shot deflected out for a corner and Roberto Firmino have a shot saved by David De Gea following some wonderful link up play between himself and compatriot Philippe Coutinho.
As the game progressed into its closing stages it looked more and more as if Liverpool would come away from Old Trafford with their first win 0f 2017, however within the final 10 minutes, the hosts equalised through Ibrahimovic, seeing him score his first ever goal against Liverpool with a looping header that crashed in off the crossbar.
Much to the disgust of numerous Liverpool fans the build-up play leading to the United goal was offside, gifting the Red Devils their 8th goal scored from offside situations so far this season.
The match ended with a final opportunity falling to Liverpool in the dying seconds and Emre Can found Georgino Wijnaldum in space behind the United defence, however the Dutchman’s resulting effort was a tame one and was gathered comfortably by De Gea, seeing the game end in a 1-1 draw.
Despite the lapse of concentration from the linesman that led to United’s equaliser, many will feel a draw perhaps more adequately reflects both sides input and commitment throughout the match, though that will serve as no consolation for Liverpool.
Coming away from Old Trafford with a solitary point is a frustrating outcome for Liverpool, especially given the circumstances that led to the end result, though as things stand, Klopp is yet to lose an away game at Liverpool against “Top 6” opposition, accumulating 4 wins and 3 draws (15 out of 21 points).
Currently sitting in 3rd place in the Premier League, only 7 points off leaders Chelsea, Liverpool’s next league game comes at home against relegation candidates Swansea, who have lost every game at Anfield since 2012, in what they hope will be their first league win of the calendar year.
Before then however, Klopp’s men will face a visit to Plymouth Argyle in an FA Cup 3rd Round replay on the 18th January, the result of that game determining who will go on to face Wolves in the 4th Round of the coveted cup competition.