16 Conclusions on Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United: Nunez, Varane, Neville, Onana, Dalot’s red

Matt Stead
Manchester United keeper Andre Onana saves from Liverpool forward Mo Salah
Mo Salah takes one of Liverpool's 427 shots

Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville providing most of the amusement at Anfield was damning of the latest classic served up by Liverpool and Manchester United.


1) Not since October 2016 has a team ever had as many shots in a single Premier League game without scoring. Jose Mourinho was sent to the Old Trafford stands during a Sean Dyche masterclass as Burnley escaped from their short trip with a point then; expected title contenders were again foiled by follically-challenged low-block relegation battlers in a game involving Manchester United seven years later.

That same month brought us the dreaded Red Monday. This was every bit as hyped and no less horrible to watch.


2) Mo Salah had as many shots as Manchester United (six). Liverpool’s four substitutes (eight) and two centre-halves (seven) had more between them. Cody Gakpo had four shots in a half-hour cameo, including one unmarked header about eight yards out and centre of goal which was sent cruising over the crossbar. Joe Gomez, yet to score in a 228-game career as a senior professional, had at least as many shots as any visiting player in his 30 minutes.

An unlucky 13 Liverpool players had at least one shot; Alisson and Kostas Tsimikas can hang their heads in shame at not completing the set.

There are many ways to truly damn that wasteful, sloppy, careless Liverpool performance: the 12 corners to zero; the way Manchester United still carved out the best open-play chances; the ironically flaccid and sterile 69% possession. But ultimately it came down to some absolutely diabolical decision-making and a gaping void into which anything resembling a sound idea collapsed.

Liverpool’s first goalless game since April – that soul-destroying 0-0 draw with Bruno Saltor’s mighty Chelsea – had been coming; their underlying attacking numbers have been poor, largely masked by the individual brilliance of Salah. The Egyptian’s run of scoring or assisting at home in the league ends on 16 matches and might finally force a period of introspection to address some fundamental issues.


3) Salah was very much part of the problem, engaging in some remarkably loose interchanges down the right with the substandard Dominik Szoboszlai in the first half in particular. Not since Harry Kane tried to tell Daniel Levy he was in control of his own future over a round of golf with Gary Neville has the overlap been quite so awkwardly deployed.

With that said, Salah was as close as anyone to making the difference. But even he trailed in terms of setting up the most shots. That honour went to Peter Drury, whose intermittent shouting of the Egyptian’s name in anticipation of a crescendo which never came provided the perfect blue-balled backdrop to a true anti-climax of a match.


4) Liverpool made precisely the right sort of start: quick, relentless and unremitting. Within the first four minutes they had three corners, with Salah almost finding Darwin Nunez at the back post and a tempting Tsimikas free-kick delivery causing panic.

Manchester United were perturbed by the opponent, the occasion, the atmosphere or a potent combination of the three. They could not keep the ball. By the time of that third corner, they had completed a single pass.

Much was made of this being the highest attendance for a Liverpool home game in more than 60 years, and their third biggest ever in a league match. But Trent Alexander-Arnold feeling the need to gee the supporters up and cajole a reaction out of them by giving it the Steven Gerrard 2005 Champions League final on two occasions, both times after almost scoring in each half, was telling.

Jurgen Klopp will hopefully not make the same mistake Pep Guardiola absolutely would – of apportioning some blame to the fans for failing to make enough “noise” or some such nonsense – but fair play to Gary Neville for at least trying to conceal his pleasure at the hushed ambience all the same.

Perhaps the increasingly anxious energy around the stadium was a factor, but equally that display hardly merited a raucous response beyond the opening stages.

READ MORELiverpool boss Jurgen Klopp ‘can’t remember such dominance against Man Utd’, even in the 7-0


5) Manchester United deserve credit for riding a tidal wave of momentum which looked at times as though it was destined to drown them. One uncertain clearance from Raphael Varane seemed to be a harbinger of things to come but the Frenchman was excellent thereafter on his first start since late September.

The renaissance of Harry Maguire offers hope that Varane can play a more significant part in the future under Erik ten Hag, who has proven that doors can be shut at Old Trafford but not necessarily locked. A manager who openly tried to sell his captain at Anfield in the summer is fine with offering second chances, particularly during injury crises.

Ten Hag will certainly need Varane if this is the plan going forward in such games: the centre-half led the match for interceptions (three) and made 15 clearances, with his closest rival in that regard managing six. It was a masterclass in box defending, to which Liverpool’s only answers were aimless crosses into the box and eminently blockable shots from distance.


6) But the clean sheet was as much a testament to partner Jonny Evans, who helped form the latest centre-half pairing cobbled together in this disrupted Manchester United season.

The 35-year-old cannot have expected to bear such monumental responsibility this season, and his mere presence is indicative of fundamental issues undermining the very foundations of the club’s unfocused operations. But that is no fault of Evans’. The Northern Irishman has been largely very good in sub-optimal circumstances, and even contributed the world’s most cumbersome Zidane roulette to this game.


7) Evans was involved in what can technically be described as one of the most noteworthy incidents of the first half: the yellow card incurred by Nunez. It was quite literally deemed worthy of note and little else fell under that category before half-time, so there.

A high ball had been played over the top and Evans sought to block the run of Nunez. The Liverpool forward barged into his opponent’s chest, spun and shot, the whistle having long since blown. Replays showed just how laughably little Nunez even contemplated the ball’s existence, so laser-focused was he on clattering Evans.

Booked for a mixture of needless foul and kicking the ball away, Nunez sarcastically applauded the referee’s decision. It was a really quite dense thing to do, the unpunished ignorance of which was only highlighted by a similar situation towards the end of the game.

Part of the Nunez charm is his impulsiveness but often it just leads to really naive, senseless moments, like standing offside to receive a Ryan Gravenberch pass in first-half stoppage-time and shaking his head at the linesman daring to make the call.

He has so many of the necessary elements to be a wonderful player but a 10-game goal drought – a sequence in which he has also assisted just two goals – suggests the need for a little more self-analysis and less constant fight-picking.


8) Then again, without Nunez we would not have had our most entertaining part of the entire game: Jamie Carragher summarily losing his entire collection of shit at the Uruguayan half-heartedly appealing for a penalty instead of trying to collect the loose ball in Manchester United’s area as their goalkeeper and two defenders lay crumpled on the ground.

The high-pitched disbelief of “what’s Nunez’s stopped for?!” could only be beaten by Carragher subsequently raging at how the Uruguayan didn’t “just run across and put it into an empty net”, as if a) the ball would not have been at a remarkably difficult angle, and b) Evans, the covering defender on the line, did not exist.

Klopp, not a man always famed for his humour, showed impeccable comedic timing by ending Nunez’s nonsense and substituting him almost immediately.


9) The first half came to a close when Wataru Endo was booked for a high boot on Sofyan Amrabat, which only actually qualified as such an offence because the Manchester United midfielder was essentially crouching.

The free-kick, in a dangerous position about 30 yards out and slightly to the right of centre, was thumped straight out of play by Dalot as Michael Oliver peeped the saddest of whistles. It was a fitting end.


10) Through an in-depth Sky Sports pre-match sit-down interview and the panicky commentary undertones of Neville, Andre Onana was set up for his latest fall. It never did come, despite the tangible palpitations caused by Manchester United deciding to Pass It Around The Back during Liverpool’s dominant start.

Even at that point, Onana had been fine; the nervousness was existential and never once exhibited by the keeper himself, who made some fine decisions in possession and executed them well, including a fine turn on Nunez in his own area.

There was one spill of a Nunez header in the area – and an instant atoning for that mistake by following up to save from Salah – but Onana was very good and the hysteria surrounding him remains largely overplayed. That save from a Virgil van Dijk header was lovely and that pass to Antony in the 80th minute to launch a counter Manchester United wasted was exceptional.


11) Unfortunately for Onana, he is not the first and will certainly not be the last to suffer for the comparison with his opposite number. Alisson was significantly less busy but that made his save from Rasmus Hojlund just after the hour mark even more impressive.

When your keeper can retain that level of concentration – and ally it with more composed excellence from Van Dijk – then Liverpool have a defensive safety net which makes their attacking impotence all the more frustrating. Alisson also had the highest passing accuracy of any starter by far because some people just have to be good at everything.

READ: Liverpool and Man Utd stoppers in top four as Premier League goalkeepers ranked


12) That Hojlund chance was huge, crafted wonderfully by Antony and captain Scott McTominay. A fine run from the Dane was not matched by a precise finish and the opportunity to retrospectively describe Manchester United’s gameplan as perfect was gone.

Hojlund gathered the McTominay pass well enough into his stride with the left foot but the finish with his right was more rushed as Endo closed in. And frankly after 60 minutes of non-existent service it is difficult to blame the 20-year-old for snatching at the shot. To say he was feeding off scraps before then would imply he was being given any sort of service at all. Hojlund was isolated until that moment and thereafter.

That is a fundamental issue when spearheading this sort of approach in such a significant fixture with an inexperienced £64m striker. The price tag places even greater pressure on already massive moments when a player with 39 career goals is expected to convert the one chance he is provided far more often than he doesn’t. After 13 Premier League games Hojlund remains without a goal but he ranks sixth in the Manchester United squad for shots taken. It makes little sense and certainly doesn’t seem to be helping him.


13) An important aspect of the game taking the shape it did was that all four full-backs won their respective personal battles. Luke Shaw continued his fine form against Salah, Tsimikas was great at both ends and Dalot acquitted himself well enough, cleanly tackling Luis Diaz at one stage early in the second to prove the Colombian could actually be dispossessed if challenged appropriately.

The most crucial input from those wide players came from Alexander-Arnold – and not going forward. The vice-captain was undoubtedly involved in that sense and the strategy of moving him central after introducing Gakpo and Gomez was again attempted, this time to no avail. But it was his vital tackle on Alejandro Garnacho in the 55th minute which was most impressive as the Manchester United forward bore down on goal before the Liverpool defender poked the ball away.

There was an element of Alexander-Arnold losing his man in the first place to give Garnacho the chance, but for a defender who can’t defend he did well to recover and prevent the situation escalating.

READ MORE: Ten Hag says Man Utd defended ‘almost perfectly’ in Liverpool stalemate as his side finally show ‘fight’


14) The through ball from Kobbie Mainoo to create that opening was glorious and symptomatic of a confident, mature performance in midfield from the teenager.

Both he and Amrabat were booked after about half an hour and Liverpool’s inability to exploit that potential weakness was fatal. The latter seemed like a particularly obvious target at one stage very early in the first half when he fouled Gravenberch, failed to sort out his feet to cut out an Alexander-Arnold pass, was pressed into oblivion to concede possession, overhit a six-yard pass out for a throw-in and was glided past by Diaz, but Liverpool seemed more intent on working the ball wide to cross to no-one instead of trying to bait the two booked holding midfielders.

Liverpool vs Manchester United: Luis Diaz and Sofyan Amrabat compete for the ball.
Luis Diaz and Sofyan Amrabat compete for the ball.


15) Roy Keane offered an uncharacteristically scathing response but the post-match assessment from Van Dijk was typical condescending bluster about “only one team trying to win the game” and the hosts being “superior in all aspects”, with his tunnel taunt of Onana that “because of you we only played a half hour game” particularly weird.

Klopp was unable to “remember such a dominant performance against Man United” as manager and captain consoled themselves with claims of supremacy. Yet it rings a little hollow when Liverpool, for all their possession and their shots, did not create one memorable chance against an opponent that has played this fixture in precisely the same way for about six years.

Klopp took on the same patronising, mocking tone after a goalless draw at Anfield in October 2017 – “I think Man United came here wanting a point and they got it, we wanted three points and we didn’t get it. If we were to play this way… we could not do it at Liverpool. But obviously for Manchester United it’s OK” – and it just comes across as futile point-scoring, ‘playing the right way’ nonsense for the sake of pleasing the banter social media fans. Liverpool drawing a match only they supposedly tried to win reflects poorly on just one team and it wasn’t the visitors.


16) But this is Premier League football so obviously after all that there had to be some refereeing controversy. In the third minute of second-half stoppage-time and with the game long since having died a death, Dalot and Salah competed for a ball played over the top near the Manchester United penalty area and both appealed for a subsequent throw-in. It was erroneously given in favour of Liverpool, to which Dalot reacted furiously. Oliver then issued the Portuguese a yellow card, to which Dalot reacted – quite impressively – identically furiously.

It was a strange situation made all the more surreal by Neville and Carragher openly scoffing at Mike Dean’s explanation of Dalot’s apparent offence as “double dissent”; the punditry pair poring over a split screen slow-motion replay of the incident to see just when Dalot threw his second strop in relation to Oliver issuing the first booking; Nunez not being sent off for similar in the first half; and Arsenal fans somehow making it about them by bringing up two separate incidents from years ago involving Gabriel Martinelli and Mateo Kovacic.

This result kept the Gunners top but that cannot be allowed to distract from The Conspiracy.