Jose Mourinho’s first taste of Manchester United’s historic rivalry with Liverpool ended with a goalless draw at Anfield, where two world-class saves from David De Gea proved pivotal.
Monday night’s match was largely an even contest throughout with the teams fashioning a few chances to score, particularly in the livelier second half when De Gea’s athletic ability enabled him to deny Emre Can and Philippe Coutinho with astonishing acts of goalkeeping.
It was United’s first match at Anfield since the new Main Stand had opened earlier this term and the increased attendance contributed to a particularly rousing rendition of the club anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone. A frenzied atmosphere sound-tracked the opening exchanges, too, particularly when the home fans protested the referee’s decision not to caution Marcus Rashford for an early foul on James Milner.
While this was a battle between age-old enemies, there were many new faces involved and arguably none more recognisable than Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedish summer signing who had not scored or beaten Liverpool in four previous matches with Italian clubs. He was lively early on, hitting a free-kick off target from distance and forcing a good save from Lloris Karius with a deflected strike.
Jose Mourinho had made two changes to his team by starting Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young in midfield, but his decision to play Paul Pogba as a number 10 was perhaps his most notable alteration. The Frenchman, who had previously been sent off at Anfield in a feisty FA Youth Cup tie, appeared to relish his greater freedom by positioning himself high up the pitch, almost as a second striker at times.
Liverpool’s best chance of the half fell to Roberto Firmino when the Brazilian headed tamely at David De Gea on 30 minutes, before the home side finished in the ascendancy. The Anfield crowd reserved its biggest cheers in the first period, however, for the late bookings of Eric Bailly and Ashley Young.
STATS AT HALF TIME
Possession: Liverpool 66% United 34%
Shots: Liverpool 2 United 5
Shots on target: Liverpool 1 United 1
Corners: Liverpool 1 United 0
The match resumed with both teams battling in midfield and chances began to appear, firstly when Pogba beat Jordan Henderson on 54 minutes to fire a powerful cross into the area that Ibrahimovic headed back across goal, allowing Karius to gleefully collect. Can, starting in Georginio Wijnaldum’s absence, then scrambled a low shot at goal to force an absolutely superb one-handed save out of De Gea.
After a quiet spell, the Spain international was called into action once again as he produced another astounding act of goalkeeping to keep his sheet clean on 70 minutes, this time diving to his left to palm Coutinho’s 30-yard thunderbolt wide of the post. The Kop quickly burst into applause and their ovation could well have been in appreciation of United’s no.1, as well as their own red-shirted star.
Wayne Rooney, scorer of a winning goal at Anfield last season, was introduced to the action in place of Marcus Rashford on 77 minutes and, soon after, Fellaini headed a decent opportunity wide from Daley Blind’s corner. At the other end, Antonio Valencia then produced an inch-perfect sliding tackle to prevent Firmino from shooting when he was bearing down on goal with the clock ticking towards full time.
The result has left United seventh in the Premier League and five points behind leaders Manchester City after eight matches played, with Liverpool slightly ahead in fourth place.
STATS AT FULL TIME
Possession: Liverpool 58% United 42%
Shots: Liverpool 9 United 7
Shots on target: Liverpool 3 United 1
Corners: Liverpool 3 United 1
Liverpool: Karius, Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner (Moreno 86), Henderson, Can, Coutinho, Firmino (Origi 85), Mane, Sturridge (Lallana 59).
Subs not used: Mignolet, Klaven, Lucas, Grujic.
United: De Gea, Valencia, Bailly, Smalling, Blind, Pogba, Fellaini, Rashford (Rooney 77), Herrera, Young (Shaw 90+1), Ibrahimovic.
Subs not used: Romero, Rojo, Carrick, Lingard, Mata.
Booked: Bailly, Young, Ibrahimovic, Fellaini.