Even the best things have to come to an end sometime.
Liverpool’s Premier League winning run is over, their perfect start to the new season finished by this attritional, controversial, 1-1 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford.
No record-equalling 18th straight victory for Jurgen Klopp’s side, whose unbeaten run is nonetheless maintained thanks to substitute Adam Lallana’s 85th-minute equaliser. Their lead at the top of the table is now six points though, with another difficult away fixture negotiated. They remain in a great position.
What a time for Lallana to deliver. The England midfielder had not scored a competitive goal since the final day of the 2016-17 season, but he was perfectly placed to tap home at the far post after Andy Robertson’s cross had somehow evaded everyone else. He may not be first choice at Anfield anymore, but this was a big contribution from a player who has been desperate to make one.
“Just make an impact,” Klopp had told him as he prepared to come on for Jordan Henderson in the 71st minute. Job done.
It got the Reds out of jail, too. Klopp’s team, as has been the case in recent seasons, saved some of their worst football for this grandest of stages.
Just as they had been on their last two visits here, Liverpool were meek and subdued, unable to build up any sort of rhythm in an attacking sense, and driven to distraction by an average United side who played, predictably, as if their lives depended on it. “We know that we have to do better,” admitted Klopp.
Without Mohamed Salah, absent due to the ankle injury sustained before the international break, the Reds struggled to create anything of note. Roberto Firmino’s tame first-half shot, and another that substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dragged wide after the interval, was the sum total of their output until Lallana’s late intervention brought about a late surge.
“We did predictable things,” said Klopp afterwards. “And it was easy for them to defend the predictable things.”
It all made a mockery of the pre-game predictions, where the world seemingly waited for an away win. “I’m getting out before the massacre starts,” joked one Manchester United legend prior to kick off. “Everything points towards a Liverpool victory,” admitted Roy Keane in the Sky Sports studio.
They were right to be concerned, in fairness. Liverpool’s last 17 games had brought 17 wins, while United’s had brought 17 points. But anybody expecting a stroll for the visitors clearly doesn’t know this fixture. United, written off repeatedly, were always going to deliver more than they had so far this season. They had to.
Klopp was bemused by the failure of VAR to intervene after Marcus Rashford had converted Daniel James’ cross, nine minutes before the break, to give United the lead. Liverpool screamed foul after Victor Lindelof caught Divock Origi in the build-up.
The goal was checked. No “clear and obvious” error from referee Martin Atkinson was the verdict. Plenty will beg to differ. Klopp certainly did. “It doesn’t make sense,” he said. “Mr Atkinson would have whistled [for the foul] but let the game run because he has VAR, then VAR says there was no error. For me it was so clear.”
Liverpool’s annoyance was compounded a few minutes later when Sadio Mane clipped in an equaliser, only for VAR to confirm the ball had struck his hand moment earlier. Unlucky for the Senegal star, even if the decision this time was, technically, the correct one.
Liverpool dominated the ball after the interval – this was the second-lowest possession (32.1 per cent) United had recorded in a home league game since records began in 2003 – though the visitors were unable to fashion clear-cut chances, instead resorting to a series of hopeful crosses from their full-backs as time ran out.
In the end, one paid off. “I think we can all agree we deserved the goal,” said Klopp. Solskjar, predictably, disagreed.
For United, there will be heart in the way they were able, at times, to ruffle and to threaten their rivals, in particular through the pace of James and Rashord. They are not a good side, by any stretch, but they at least gave their fans something here. Some would argue that’s how far they’ve fallen, taking home draws as victories. “We deserved the three points,” suggested Rashford.
As for Liverpool, their sights are set much higher. They are still in the box seat, of course, but will know that they can’t afford too many days like this.
In the end, they owed a debt of gratitude to Lallana, their unlikely hero.