Manchester United were held to a 0-0 draw by rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford, sending their Northwest rivals back to the top of the Premier League table, and dropping the hosts back to fifth place. The story of the match was United’s extraordinary injury crisis - four players were injured before halftime, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was forced into using all 3 substitutions before the break.
After settling on a side that had largely been picking itself over the course of his tenure, Solskjaer was forced to field a starting XI that was 3 players short of his best team in the biggest league match of the season. Nemanja Matić picked up an injury in training which forced Scott McTominay into service in holding holding midfield. In attack, United lined up the same way they did at Chelsea, as Jesse Lingard was only fit enough to make the bench, while Anthony Martial did not end up being available at all.
Unfortunately for the Reds, an already precarious injury situation quickly went from bad to worse. Marcus Rashford went down heavily heavily after a challenge in the first few minutes. The striker hobbled on for a bit, but while supporters watched nervously to see if he could continue, disaster struck elsewhere. Ander Herrera, who has been outstanding under Solskjaer, went down holding his hamstring in the 20th minute. It was immediately obvious that he couldn’t continue, and Andreas Pereira came on his place.
Two minutes later, with Rashford about to be replaced, Juan Mata put in a brilliant interception to halt a Liverpool counterattack, and then immediately pulled up lame. Lingard — barely fit after injury — replaced Mata instead of Rashford, as the visibly limping latter moved to the left of the attack.
With half an hour, Liverpool had yet to capitalize on the makeshift nature of the United team, and were even forced into a change of their own. Roberto Firmino went off injured to be replaced by Daniel Sturridge. United were understandably struggling to build any kind of coherent play going forward, but were relatively comfortable at the back.
Lingard had United’s best chance of the half. Lukaku shielded the ball and turned to set Pogba free, and the midfielder marauded forwarded and played it back to Lukaku. Lukaku then split two defenders to send Lingard through, but Alisson rushed out to smother the shot. Sadly, it would prove to be Lingard’s last contribution. Only on as a substitute minutes before, Lingard re-aggravated his hamstring injury and was forced off. Alexis Sánchez was United’s third and final sub, with still 3 minutes to go before halftime, and Rashford still nursing a knock.
Despite the barely believable injury disruption, the Reds managed to hold their nerve, and went into halftime with the scores level, and maybe even looking like the more threatening side.
After the break, the home side showed no sign of sitting back and hoping to salvage a point. United may have lost some of their attacking verve, but they were still intent on taking the game to their rivals. The atmosphere at Old Trafford was as electric as it’s been all season, with the home fans roaring courage into their undermanned team.
United actually had the ball in the back of the net midway though the half. Pogba did brilliantly to win a free-kick, and a move that had clearly been rehearsed on the training ground led to Joel Matip putting the ball past his own ‘keeper, but the goal was pulled back for offside. United were playing with the focus and intensity of a team down to 10 men, which was just as well; Rashford was visibly hobbled, and only able to offer the bare minimum up front.
Chris Smalling was inches away from scoring a winner in the 90th minute, but failed to get a boot onto an inviting Lukaku cross, after Matip had hesitated with his clearance. In the end — despite the Reds’ injury disaster — Liverpool offered very little in attack, and this patched-up United side would have counted themselves unlucky to not have won all 3 points.