Premier League champions Liverpool welcomed table toppers Manchester United to Anfield on Sunday, for a game that saw plenty of tension rise long before the Red Devils even took the road to Liverpool. It was only to be expected; after all, these are the two most successful clubs in the history of English football, both domestically, with 19 and 20 league titles, respectively, and in Europe with six and three European Cups to boot. But this match was even more than that – it was important from a practical point of view as well with only three points separating them in the table.
A disappointing affair
Talk of club greatness aside, this kind of a game was probably to be expected, given what we’ve seen from these teams in their recent outings. United got the results they needed, and it can be said of this game as well, but they certainly didn’t shine. Liverpool dominated their matches thoroughly, but far too often failed to make that domination count. And so it was again.
United mostly hung back and rarely showed desire (or ability, to be honest) to compete with Liverpool for possession. They defended responsibly and in numbers, never allowing the opposition a clear sight of David De Gea, and waited for the hosts to drop their guard to hit quickly through counterattacks.
It’s very interesting what is happening with Liverpool, on the other hand. For all the defensive woes they’ve suffered through injuries this season, their makeshift centre-back duo, consisting of midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson, did their job well. It was upfront where they struggled once more, with their until recently deadly attacking trio of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah looking unbelievably flat and uninspired.
Overall, Liverpool were the better team, but United came closer to winning as Alisson Becker produced superb second-half saves to deny Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba from close range.
Is it time for a change at Liverpool?
Liverpool’s attacking impotence posed the question which was hard to imagine until recently – is it time for Jurgen Klopp to consider a change in his forward line?
There have been rumours of Salah being targeted by Real Madrid, and unless the Egyptian improves his form between now and the end of the season, it might actually make sense for the Reds to consider potential offers in the summer, should there be any. Presuming they get anything in excess of £100 million for his services, they could, perhaps, throw on another £50m on top of that and make a move for Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland or PSG’s Kylian Mbappe.
Whatever happens on that front, it seems Liverpool are in for a big summer. The season has shown that the cover they have in the centre-back department is insufficient, with young Nathaniel Phillips and Rhys Williams obviously still not trusted in big matches. They will also have to think about replacing Georginio Wijnaldum, with the Dutch midfielder set to run out of contract and there still being no sign of an agreement over a new one.
Having built a team that has won the Champions League and the Premier League, perhaps it’s time for Klopp to start shaping something new in that aspect.
Are United genuine title contenders?
United’s chances of winning their 21st Premier League title will obviously depend on many things over the course of the second half of the campaign, not least on whether Liverpool and Manchester City, the two strong favourites at the start of the season, will be able to achieve consistency. Liverpool, of course, first need to change a few things around in their favour, but City are marching up the table again. By crushing Crystal Palace on Sunday evening, they’ve now moved ahead of Liverpool and to just two points behind Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team at the top – with a game in hand on both, as well as Leicester City who are still hanging in there.
So, the answer, given one round before the campaign reaches its halfway line, is definitely yes. This might well be the first time the Red Devils are crowned English champions since the day Sir Alex Ferguson retired at the end of 2012-13, but there is a long, long way to go yet.