It was a ludicrous afternoon of sorts at Old Trafford, where the Manchester United Red Devils hosted the Red Pretenders Liverpool for their second matchup in this year’s domestic campaign. Without a win at the Theatre of Dreams in the last five years, Jurgen Klopp’s men looked to go three points clear at the top of the Premier League table with a win against interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. A draw would have kept Liverpool’s pursuit for their first title a contentious race with Manchester City, and a drop in points would have kept United’s neighbors top of the table.
Sunday ended in only a draw for the home side, but there were some key takeaways from the matchup. Here are three things we learned from Manchester United’s 0-0 draw against Liverpool.
Solskjaer’s gamble backfires
The opening half hour of Sunday’s contest proved to be a nervy event for both sides. Ander Herrera and Juan Mata both picked up injuries, with Jesse Lingard coming on to replace the latter. The Englishman was only involved in 15 minutes of play when he picked up a hamstring strain, forcing him off the pitch in favor of Alexis Sánchez. By halftime, United had already used their three allocated substitutions.
There are a number of things Solskjaer has done right since assuming managerial responsibilities in December. However, in what could be interpreted as pure desperation, the Norwegian put an already injured Lingard on the pitch only to almost immediately have to pry him back off. Lingard is undoubtedly the man you want playing in contentious matches, but only when he’s fully fit. To force him into playing when crucial matches still loom was a careless mistake that could have fared much worse.
Pogba has come a long way
When Liverpool hosted United at Anfield on December 16, José Mourinho was still in charge and Paul Pogba was an unused substitute. United’s frustrations with the Special One had reached its breaking point, and the 3-1 defeat signaled a need for change. The Portuguese was sacked days later and in came Solskjaer to make do with the struggling club he once played for.
Many debated whether Pogba or Mourinho would exit the club first, and the decision to offloaded Mou has been remarkable for Pogba’s form. Since Solskjaer’s arrival Pogba has more combined goals and assists than any player in Europe’s major five leagues, tallying 13 in 9 domestic appearances, per Sky Sports.
The Frenchman had a very good afternoon, making a long range shot that had potential to put United up one in the first half. Unfortunately, an impressive block from centre-back Virgil van Dijk spoiled his efforts. Pogba would face another misfortune in the second half, heading the ball on an Ashley Young set piece straight into the arms of keeper Alisson Becker. It wouldn’t have counted if he managed to dart it past the Brazilian goalie, as the official ruled him offside.
Despite those setbacks, it’s worth questioning if Pogba was the missing link during December’s meeting. The midfielder was brilliant on both the offense and defensive fronts yesterday, and makes a justifiable argument that between him and Mourinho, United picked the right man to sever ties with.
Solskjaer gets his tactics right again
The energy around Old Trafford was electrifying, but it was a distinct chant from the crowd that showcased the growing approval of the caretaker manager.
“Ole’s at the wheel! Tell me how good does it feel!?”
In spite of a disappointing result, there’s an obvious truth that Solskjaer’s job of managing United in key matchups has generally worked in his favor. Given United’s injury headaches and Liverpool’s offensive talent, most United fans were more than satisfied with Sunday’s result. For the visitors, however, this draw will feel like a missed opportunity for Liverpool to make the claim they’ve earned their first Premier League title in club history.
With Sunday’s result in the books, Liverpool have now won just one of their last five games since having the chance to widen their lead by at least seven points at the top earlier this year. Klopp was obviously triggered following the match, using a comical excuse to explain why his side didn’t perform at their best.
Klopp: “It was a strange game. Man Utd injuries cost us our rhythm.” #MUNLIV— Juliet Bawuah (@julietbawuah) February 24, 2019
Frustrating the opposition to this extent when odds increasingly weren’t in your favor should be enough to hand Solskjaer the permanent role, and at this point no other person is as well suited for the best job in football.
Manchester United have an easier fixture this mid-week, traveling to Selhurst Park to take on mid-table side Crystal Palace on Wednesday. It’s a necessary breather considering a fair amount of the first-team are nursing injuries of varying forms. With a win against the Eagles this week, United could climb back into fourth place and in Champions League qualification contention.