MANCHESTER, United Kingdom (AFP) – Liverpool moved one point clear at the top of the Premier League after being forced to settle for a 0-0 draw at injury-ravaged Manchester United on Sunday night.
Jurgen Klopp’s side climbed above Manchester City into pole position, but left Old Trafford frustrated that they failed to go three points clear after struggling to break down a United team hit by three key injuries.
Liverpool, chasing a first English title since 1990, had few chances to beat their bitter rivals despite United losing Juan Mata, Ander Herrera and Jesse Lingard before the interval.
The Reds, who had just one shot on target, now have 11 league games remaining, the same number as second placed City.
It was a missed opportunity for Liverpool, who used up their game in hand on City and lost Brazilian striker Roberto Firmino to injury.
Liverpool’s third draw in four games comes in a period in which they have dropped six points in the battle with Pep Guardiola’s champions.
United dropped to fifth place as a result of Arsenal’s win over Southampton.
The pre-match build-up, and intense atmosphere certainly did not disappoint.
But, once the action started, it became more about the four substitutions – three for United, one for Liverpool – that were forced on the respective managers over the first 45 minutes.
Indeed, by the interval, there had been twice as many substitutions as shots on target – the game’s first such effort being a tame Marcus Rashford attempt which he chipped up for an easy Alisson Becker catch.
United midfielder Herrera was the first to go, having injured himself in the process of fouling Joel Matip on the edge of the home area.
Mohamed Salah succeeded only in lofting that free-kick over the home goal although, by the 20 minute mark, Herrera was unable to continue and replaced by Andreas Pereira.
Mata was next, four minutes later, paying the price for an heroic challenge on Salah on the edge of his own area and limping off to be substituted by Lingard.
And Liverpool were not spared disruption of their own when Firmino twisted his right ankle while making a routine pass and was forced off.
The fitness problems would not end there.
Lingard, who had been nursing an injured hamstring, would only last only 18 minutes before coming off three minutes before the interval with what appeared to be a recurrence of the problem.
To add insult to injury, Lingard was replaced having hurt himself in missing the best chance of the first period following a sublime through ball from Romelu Lukaku that split the Liverpool defence.
Lingard chased through on goal but, with only Alisson to beat, was denied by a brave save from the Brazilian keeper, stumbling and re-injuring himself in the process.
“It was a strange game. We started really well, exactly like we wanted. Then the injury crisis started and that obviously cost us the rhythm. It was like ‘what’s going on’,” Klopp said.
“In the end we have to admit United played with a completely new midfield and strikers. We lost our rhythm and couldn’t get it back.
“It was a game without a lot of highlights. It was an intense situation. It was a point United wanted and we lost two.
“Some days United are beatable. You have to do it and we didn’t do it.”
Liverpool’s second successive goalless draw came at the end of a week in which they failed to break down Bayern Munich in the Champions League last 16 first leg last week.
None of Liverpool’s attacking stars shone against United, with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane both quiet.
Klopp conceded Liverpool had lacked composure at critical moments and he called on them to bounce back against Watford in midweek.
“I’m not here to be frustrated. I always take what I get from the boys. It doesn’t feel world-class in the moment. That’s okay,” Klopp said.
“We didn’t play a lot of wonderful balls in the final third. The build-up from deep was OK, but then you need to be more flexible.
“You need to keep the ball in the right areas, to shoot. We didn’t do it often enough.
“It is a point gained because we have one more than before but it doesn’t feel like that. Now Wednesday is our next game.”
United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was impressed with the way his players kept Liverpool at bay despite so many injuries.
“Everything that could have gone wrong in the first half went wrong. We had four injuries – we had to keep Marcus Rashford on – it seemed like it was going to be a tough afternoon,” he said.
“I can’t remember Liverpool having a chance. Even though they had possession, I can’t remember David de Gea making a save.”