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Liverpool back on top but Man Utd draw was a missed chance for Klopp's men

19:17 EAT 24/02/2019
Virgil van Dijk Liverpool 2018-19
The Reds are a point clear at the top of the Premier League - but they'll take regrets away from this Old Trafford stalemate

Five past two. One point clear.

It’s rarely a bad result, a draw at Old Trafford, but for Liverpool this stalemate should prompt mixed emotions.

Happiness, for sure, at returning to the top of the Premier League. With 11 games remaining it is Jurgen Klopp’s team who sit in the box seat, just.

But as they headed for the exit here, as they prepared to tackle the gridlock of the M62, the Reds will have left with more than a few regrets.

Make no mistake, this was an opportunity missed for the league leaders, who were unable to take full advantage on a day when Manchester United were stretched to breaking point in front of their own supporters. One point gained, two dropped, given the context of the afternoon. Time will tell how significant this was.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, remarkably, lost three players to injury in the opening 43 minutes. They had another, Marcus Rashford, playing at around half-capacity for the majority, and were already without Nemanja Matic and Anthony Martial. For the most part, they played with a midfield base of Scott McTominay and Andreas Pereira, and with Romelu Lukaku as a right winger. "A strange game," was Klopp's assessment, and it was an accurate one.

And yet his side, in all honesty, rarely threatened to turn one point into three. They mustered one shot on target in the 90 minutes, their performance littered with pedestrian passing, loose touches and plain awful decisions. "I can't remember Liverpool having a chance," said Solskjaer. He was right.

They had their own disruption, with Roberto Firmino himself forced off before half-time with a nasty-looking rolled ankle. Without their connector-in-chief, the visitors’ promising start evaporated swiftly. Firmino left the ground on crutches; a big worry given what is to come for his team in the next few weeks.

That’s four draws in five games in all competitions for Liverpool, whose cutting edge has deserted them in the past week. Just as against Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Tuesday, they were unable to overcome an organised, deep-sitting defensive unit.

For that, they can blame their own sloppiness. Mohamed Salah, in particular, was wasteful, and was substituted for Divock Origi as the clock wound down. Sadio Mane, on the other flank, could easily have been hooked himself, while their midfield trip of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum looked as one-paced as supporters had feared, pre-match. James Milner, a surprise starter at right-back, saw lots of ball but provided little of quality.

Frustrating, indeed. There had never been a goalless draw between the sides at Old Trafford in the Premier League era, but this one felt inevitable from an hour onwards. If anything, it was United who looked the more likely to pilfer a winner. Lukaku’s late cross, which evaded everybody, gave the away end palpitations.

"On days when United are beatable you have to do it and we didn't do it," Klopp said, admitting his team had "lost their rhythm" and been unable to get it back.

Still, the German's nature is to be optimistic, and having negotiated (on paper at least) their toughest remaining fixture, he will be confident his team will up their levels as we enter the defining weeks of the campaign. They've come this far, there's no reason to start doubting them just yet.

Watford, on Wednesday, await. After that it’s a Merseyside derby. Liverpool will be fancied, naturally, but they’ll need to improve significantly on this showing.

They’ll take the point, but they could have made one here. They didn’t.