Roy Keane thought Manchester United’s defence-first approach at Anfield deserved praise, even though he was frustrated with a missed Paul Pogba chance.
Despite Liverpool fielding midfielders Jordan Henderson and Fabinho in defence, United surrendered possession and territory on Sunday in a top-of-the-table Premier League clash.
It finished goalless, with the draw taking Premier League leaders United onto 37 points, keeping them three clear of the champions.
After a fast start from Liverpool, the match settled into a tense affair. The hosts had 17 attempts – nine more than United – yet only managed three on target.
It was the third league game in succession in which Liverpool have failed to score, with Jurgen Klopp’s side without a top-flight win since they thrashed Crystal Palace 7-0 before Christmas.
United, who managed four efforts on target to the hosts’ three, had the chances to snatch Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first league win over Liverpool, who had goalkeeper Alisson to thank for a string of impressive stops in the second half.
Arguably United’s best chance fell to Paul Pogba, but the France star – employed in an unfamiliar right-wing role – struck straight at Alisson from close range.
Though United great Keane was left frustrated by the failure to take full advantage of Liverpool’s mini-malaise, he believed his old club deserved credit for a resilient rearguard performance.
Keane told Sky Sports: “The big opportunity is the [Pogba] chance. You can tell by his reaction. His first touch is excellent, my goodness, he has to score. Go anywhere, across the goalkeeper, but not straight at him.
“Because his first touch was so good he’s given himself that opportunity to go across the goalkeeper – a huge moment in the season for United. Credit to the goalkeeper, he’s stood up, but that’s the moment they might’ve been praying for before the game.
16 – Manchester United are unbeaten in their last 16 away matches in the Premier League (W12 D4) – only once have they gone longer without a defeat on the road in the competition (17 games ending in September 1999). Striving. #LIVMNU pic.twitter.com/oLl3lSdNPv
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 17, 2021
“It’s easier said than done [to come out of defence]. We knew Liverpool would be quick out of the blocks, they haven’t played for nine days.
“United were always going to be on the back foot for the first half-an-hour. They were sloppy in some of their play. You knew United would get the opportunities, it was a case of whether they could take them.
“You can’t say Liverpool have played badly, but they’ve lost their spark, definitely, and when you get the opportunities like Pogba did, it’s so disappointing. We’ve been giving Pogba a big build-up, we’ve been quick to criticise him but that was a moment for him to say he wants to be the main man, you’ve got to take that chance.
“I wouldn’t be too critical of United, I thought they showed a good mentality.”
Scott McTominay and Fred both made a game-high five tackles for United, while Victor Lindelof – preferred to Eric Bailly alongside Harry Maguire – made 10 clearances, more than any other player.
Though disappointing going forward (he lost possession more times than anybody else), Pogba managed to keep Andy Robertson under wraps, and gained back the ball nine times, behind only Trent Alexander-Arnold (11) and Thiago Alcantara (10).
“I thought the back four, which always worries me, were brilliant,” Keane continued.
“I know they gave up one or two chances in the first half-an-hour. [Luke] Shaw was brilliant defensively and going forward. When I look at the couple of chances United created, they still created the best chances in the game. Huge moments.”