Sports

Stalemate at Anfield

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

LONDON. — Manchester United maintained their three-point advantage over Liverpool at the top of the Premier League, but were denied a famous win at Anfield by Alisson Becker’s heroics in a 0-0 draw yesterday.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said it was the best time to play Liverpool, but Manchester United did not make that count; Jurgen Klopp met Solskjaer’s comments with an arch “we’ll see” yet Liverpool failed to deliver a goal for the third consecutive game in the Premier League.

They saw more of the ball, but by the end it was United who looked likelier to score. Alisson made three super second-half save in the space of eight minutes to keep Liverpool in the game.

The first, after 75 minutes, came when Luke Shaw ran an excellent overlap and was set up by Marcus Rashford.

His cut-back cross found Bruno Fernandes, but Alisson saved the shot with his feet.

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In the 83rd minute, he kept one out from Paul Pogba at close range and, from the resulting corner, smothered Rashford as he was about to turn the ball goalwards.

Yet one question remains. With such a height advantage over Liverpool’s makeshift centre-half pairing of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson, why did United not try to make more of that? Harry Maguire, Paul Pogba, Rashford, Edinson Cavani, Anthony Martial — and Fernandes to provide the service. Anyone see a route to goal there?

Having said this, Liverpool defended superbly.

Not just Alisson’s save but Fabinho’s smart interceptions and reading of passes. He took one for the team, though, tripping Cavani who was sizing up a long range shot as Alisson struggled to return to his goal-line after an upfield escapade.

So while United will be pleased with a point, and with staying top, might this have been a missed opportunity?

Solskjaer was right about Liverpool’s mojo, certainly as an attacking force. If it returns, United will have more regrets about this result than the champions.

It was one of those games that reveal the true worth of a crowd.

In normal times the fierce rivalry would have driven the mood of this game, ramped up the tension, made sense of its energy.

Without the noise and thunder, the first-half featured two decent teams, going at it, and each other — but to little effect.

Manchester United plainly declared the space behind Trent Alexander-Arnold to be their happy place and tried to venture there as often as possible.

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Cue big, booming balls from Paul Pogba, not always accurate, with Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford gamely chasing them down.

It didn’t amount to much. Once Alisson came haring off his line to thwart the danger but Rashford had strayed offside anyway.

It left United’s best chance as a 33rd minute free-kick after Xherdan Shaqiri brought down Luke Shaw 30 yards from goal. Fred and Fernandes stood over it — come on, who was Fred kidding — before Fernandes unleashed a classic free-kick.

Bending, dipping, swerving — but just off target. Liverpool got control of the game early on, but with no greater success. They had three first-half chances, but two fell to Roberto Fiurmino, the least prolific of their strikers.

He fluffed his first after 17 minutes, after a lovely move by Shaqiri — justifying Jurgen Klopp’s surprising selection with a fine first 45 minutes — found Sadio Mane, who teed him up. The ball flew wide.

Soon after, a powerful run by Andy Robertson ended with a square pass to Shaqiri and a nearer miss. Finally, just before half-time, Mo Salah burst into the box, but Firmino took the ball off his toes. His shot was weak, though, and posed no problem for David De Gea.

Meanwhile, Jose Mourinho praised Tanguy Ndombele’s desire to turn his Tottenham career around after the Frenchman’s “genius” goal sealed a 3-1 win at Sheffield United.

Spurs’ record signing seemed set for the exit door when Mourinho arrived at the club after struggling to adapt to the Premier League, with the Portuguese regularly criticising the midfielder’s hunger and fitness.

But this season has seen the 24-year-old come to the fore as a key player in Mourinho’s side and his strike at Bramall Lane will be long remembered as he produced an audacious flick over the goalkeeper’s head when running away from goal. It came at a vital moment, restoring the visitors’ two-goal lead after David McGoldrick headed home following first-half goals from Serge Aurier and Harry Kane.

Mourinho gave Ndombele all the credit for his revival at the north London club.

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He said: “I coach for so many years, had so many players and I have enough experience to say and to feel that when a player is not playing very well, it’s his responsibility, and when a player turns things around and brings his performance level to a very high level, it’s also his responsibility.

“It’s a great example that with me the door is always open. The door of the team is always open, and when a player is not playing he has to try to understand why and he has to try to understand how can he walk through that door. He understood, he understood.

“The goal is amazing, but I don’t care about the goal, I care about the performance and the performance was magnificent and I’m really pleased that he’s come to this level. He’s playing very, very well.”

Ndombele’s position at the club looked hopeless until a meeting with chairman Daniel Levy last summer, which was shown in the Amazon “All or Nothing” series. Levy was shown telling the Frenchman that Spurs wanted to keep him but he had to prove himself in a considered pep talk, and Mourinho stressed the credit for the turnaround belongs to Ndombele.

“It’s the player’s mentality, the player’s will to train hard, the player’s will to be available for the team, the player’s desire to win, to earn/work a place in the team. And the player is the most responsible,’ he added.

“Mr Levy’s responsibility, in my opinion, is some, but is minimal compared with the player. But it’s true, Mr Levy believed in the player and pushed the player in some conversations they had, that the door was open for him.

“And to me it’s always the same: the door is always open, but the player cannot expect for me to go and bring him. It has to be for the player to walk through that door, and come in the direction of what the team needs from him. So total credit for Tanguy, and I think also Mr Levy deserves                                                                              some.”

Asked what he made of the visitors’ display as a whole, Mourinho replied: ‘The performance was good. The team was very dominant, created enough chances to kill game in the first half.

“In the second half, the intention was the same. A very basic mistake gave them the goal with the only chance they had, but then we had a genius action to bring us again to a two-goal advantage.”

For Sheffield United it was the familiar tale of defeat — their 16th in the Premier League — having finally won for the first time last Tuesday. — Mailonline.

HERALD