Liverpool versus Manchester United again failed to live up to the hype as Jose Mourinho’s safety-first policy saw him once more frustrate the hosts at Anfield.
United goalkeeper David de Gea made one brilliant reaction save from Joel Matip in the first half but Jurgen Klopp’s side failed to break down well-organised opponents.
It is a criticism which has been regularly levelled at the Reds this season but was perhaps excusable on this occasion considering the rivalry and the quality – United began the day joint top – they faced.
While United were not as dour as in last season’s game here, there was no doubt Mourinho had reined in the attacking intent of a side which had previously scored 33 goals in 11 matches.
Ander Herrera was tasked with taking care of Liverpool’s creative fulcrum Philippe Coutinho, with the Brazilian restricted to one really dangerous defence-splitting through-ball in the first half which overlapping full-back Alberto Moreno wasted with an overhit cross.
Mohamed Salah, on the right wing, was more of a threat and gave Matteo Darmian a testing time with the defender lucky not to concede a free-kick – or worse – right on the edge of the penalty area.
De Gea, who saved brilliantly with an outstretched foot at close range from Matip, could only watch as Firmino’s deflected cross off Darmian rolled wide of his far post but for all Liverpool’s dominance the goalkeeper was hardly tested.
At the other end of the field in-form striker Romelu Lukaku cut an isolated figure and his frustration boiled over as he took out Joe Gomez but escaped with only a warning from Mike Atkinson, who also decided no action was required against Lukaku with Dejan Lovren rolling around on the floor suggesting he had been caught in the face by a stray boot.
United’s one chance came just before the break when Lukaku exchanged passes with Anthony Martial but was denied by Simon Mignolet, with Moreno throwing himself at Ashley Young’s shot from the rebound.
A similar pattern developed in the second half, with Coutinho frequently dropping deeper and more central to try to change the angle of attack.
It was to no avail, however, as – despite three attacking changes late on from Klopp with Daniel Sturridge, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Dominic Solanke introduced – their best chance came when Emre Can volleyed over Gomez’s teasing cross.
United, by contrast, failed to have a shot on target after the break. Lukaku, with 16 goals in 13 appearances for club and country, was virtually anonymous as his quest to become the first United player to score in his first eight Premier League matches ended with a whimper.
But Mourinho is always looking at the bigger picture and his mantra has always been not to lose the big games.
With that he got what he came for. Again.
It may have briefly handed the initiative to Manchester City, who were ahead of them only on goal difference at the start of the day, but United’s boss takes a longer-term view.