United’s return of 26 points from 17 games is their lowest tally since the penultimate season of the pre-Premier League era when Alex Ferguson’s side went on to finish sixth, 24 points behind champions Arsenal.
26 - Manchester United have picked up 26 points after their first 17 Premier League games; their worst points haul in the top-flight at this stage since 1990-91 (also 26 points). Dip. pic.twitter.com/FI2avHKq1D— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 16, 2018
The team have also conceded one more goal at the 17-game mark – 29 – than they did in the entirety of last term when they finished second.
By contrast, Liverpool are now 19 points ahead of their great rivals, their biggest ever lead over United 17 games into a season.
United were outclassed by the league leaders at Anfield, going behind in the first half when Sadio Mane turned the ball home, but equalized before the break when Jesse Lingard capitalized on a rare error from Reds goalkeeper Alisson.
Xherdan Shaqiri came off the bench in the second half and restored Liverpool’s lead just minutes later with a deflected strike, and the Swiss put the game to bed with his second and the team’s third ten minutes from the end.
United trail the top four by 11 points after Chelsea won 2-1 at Brighton, but speaking after the game Jose Mourinho suggested that his beleaguered side are still capable of reeling in the sides above them and challenging for a Champions League place.
"By winning the title? Of course not,” he told Sky Sports. “I cannot fix that. But we can finish fourth. For sure we will finish in the top six like all the historically best teams, but we can still finish fourth. First we aim for fifth, and then go for fourth.”
United could still secure a place in next season’s Champions League by winning the tournament but, after Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat at Valencia saw them limp into the last 16, that prospect seems increasingly unlikely.
They will find out who they face in the next round on Monday when the draw is made, and travel to Cardiff City for their next outing on Saturday.