One of the most eagerly-awaited clashes of the Premier League season turned into a major letdown as Liverpool and Manchester United nullified each other in a largely undistinguished goalless draw at Anfield on Monday.
After all the hype preceding the battle between English football’s fiercest rivals, United’s manager Jose Mourinho was left happier than his counterpart Juergen Klopp as the visitors doused Liverpool’s acclaimed attacking pyrotechnics.
The home side, full of goals all season, proved desperately disappointing until finding some second-half drive and may have still felt they deserved the win as United goalkeeper David de Gea had to make fine saves from Emre Can and Philippe Coutinho.
Mourinho, the master of stifling Anfield dreams when at Chelsea, again found his tactical mastery rewarded but United, seventh in the table on 14 points, have still won just one of their last five league games while Liverpool stay fourth on 17, two behind leaders Manchester City and Arsenal.
The Portuguese sounded particularly satisfied as he suggested United’s ability to keep a clean sheet against their hosts had shown “they (Liverpool) are not the last wonder of the world like you like to say they are”.
Klopp, though, talked of “mixed feelings”, admitting it had been a poor spectacle.
“I am not frustrated but I am not happy with the performance. No one will show this game in 10 or 20 years but we could have played better.
“We get a point. It doesn’t feel like the best thing but it is what we got.”
His usually whirlwind Liverpool were effectively subdued in the first half as Mourinho reverted to conservative type, bringing in Marouane Fellaini to partner Ander Herrera in a stifling central midfield combination.
Throwing men behind the ball and taking the voice out of the passionate home crowd, United controlled most of the play in the opening half-hour even if a 40-metre Zlatan Ibrahimovic free kick blasted into row Z was their lowest of highlights.
Liverpool, without the injured Georginio Wijnaldum and forced to leave Adam Lallana on the bench, never got going, with Daniel Sturridge proving disappointing, and they looked nervous in front of their fevered fans.
It took them more than half an hour before a Roberto Firmino header straight at De Gea represented their first attempt on goal.
It was only after the break that they began to show glimpses of their true colours, Can wriggling through to force a fine one-handed save from De Gea at full stretch before the Spanish keeper delivered an even finer stop, flying through the air to tip Coutinho’s curler wide.
A brilliant last-gasp challenge by Antonio Valencia deprived Firmino but United, for all their solidity, had only one effort on target and looked back ruefully on their best chance, a tame header across goal from Ibrahimovic after a great delivery from Paul Pogba.