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7 talking points as nothing separates title rivals Liverpool and Man Utd


Neither side could find the breakthrough as goal-shy Liverpool and Premier League-leaders Manchester United played out a 0-0 draw at Anfield.

Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino lashed the best chance of the early stages wide when Andy Robertson was in a better position in the box.

At the other end, Bruno Fernandes curled a free kick just the wrong side of Alisson’s post during a first 45 minutes lacking clear-cut chances.

Both Liverpool and United were similarly toothless for much of the second half, and it took until after the hour mark for Alisson to have to make a save.

But the Brazilian had to be alert to deny Bruno Fernandes the winner in the 75th minute, making a fine save with his feet to keep the Portuguese’s close-range effort out.

Thiago then tested David de Gea with a powerful effort from outside the area, before Alisson made another excellent save to deny Pogba in the closing stages.

The result means United maintain their status as league leaders, two points ahead of Leicester and three ahead of Liverpool – who have scored just one goal in their last four league outings.

Here are seven talking points from Anfield.

1. Anfield stalemate short of quality

It may be the biggest fixture in English football, but the on-pitch action between Liverpool and Manchester United has struggled to live up to expectations in recent seasons.

That’s not entirely due to a lack of goals, either, but also the general sloppiness which seeps into a game of this magnitude.

The north-west derby has a habit of forcing some of the finest players in the Premier League into uncharacteristic errors.

Thiago and Gini Wijnaldum were among the Liverpool players to misplace simple relatively passes, while the Reds once again struggled to string together attacks.

Meanwhile, Bruno Fernandes had a quiet evening and squandered his side’s best chance despite his prolific form this season, and United’s counter-attacks lacked the incisiveness to hurt their hosts.

Perhaps the FA Cup clash between these two sides next weekend will serve up more quality.

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2. Thiago’s home debut



Thiago shimmied past Fernandes on multiple occasions
Thiago shimmied past Fernandes on multiple occasions

Some four months after joining Liverpool from Bayern Munich, Thiago Alcantara stepped out on the Anfield turf for his home debut.

At the release of the line-ups, there was speculation Jurgen Klopp may have deployed Thiago in the double-pivot alongside Gini Wijnaldum in a 4-2-3-1.

But the Reds started the match in their usual 4-3-3 formation with Thiago operating as the deep-lying playmaker, flanked by Wijnaldum and Xherdan Shaqiri.

The Spaniard showed an early glimpse of his prodigious quality on the ball by nimbly skipping away from Bruno Fernandes to burst into the final third.

He did the same moments later, ghosting past Fred – only to overhit his Mohamed Salah-bound pass. There was another overhit through-ball – this time for Trent Alexander-Arnold – which summed up a mixed first half for Thiago.

But the 30-year-old found his range in the second half and forced David de Gea into an excellent save with his rifled effort. He did not snub his defensive duties, either, and made seven interceptions to snuff out United’s counter-attacking threat.

Thiago will find more sharpness with more minutes, and it was a promising home debut which will leave Liverpool fans hoping to see the midfielder start again against Burnley on Thursday.

3. Pogba deployed in new role



The Frenchman was handed a start on the right of midfield
The Frenchman was handed a start on the right of midfield

Paul Pogba may want to leave Manchester United at the end of the season, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is determined to get his money’s worth out of the Frenchman in the meantime.

Solskjaer has deployed Pogba in central midfield, holding midfield and on the left flank already this season – and decided to hand him a start on the right against Liverpool.

It was an intriguing decision which perhaps aimed to exploit the space sometimes left by Sadio Mane and Andy Robertson on Liverpool’s left.

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It also allowed Solskjaer to field Fred and Scott McTominay – his first-choice midfield pairing for big games – in the double pivot.

Pogba was the license to drift inside while Anthony Martial stretched the Reds’ defence by hugging the opposite touchline.

But watching United you couldn’t help but feel substitute Mason Greenwood could have been the more effective pick on the right, as the youngster would have relished the chance to run at a depleted Liverpool defence.

4. Shaqiri shines but Reds attack falters again



Shaqiri showed the drive and ingenuity Liverpool have missed in recent outings
Shaqiri showed the drive and ingenuity Liverpool have missed in recent outings

Xherdan Shaqiri was rewarded with a rare start for the visit of Manchester United after he came off the bench to pick up two assists in the victory over Aston Villa youngsters in the FA Cup.

Keen to address a lack of creativity which has limited the Reds to one goal in three Premier League outings, Jurgen Klopp fielded the Swiss winger in an attacking midfield role.

Shaqiri quickly made an impression on the match, showing off his trickery on the edge of the box to get a shot off in the opening stages. He is an expert at creating space and shooting minimal backlift – and his intensity is something Liverpool’s attackers have lacked in recent performances.

Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane are arguably in the midst of their most challenging period as a forward trident, while the Reds have scored one goal in their last four Premier League games.

Salah and Mane were short of chances once again, while Firmino’s decision making was awry – as shown when he fired wide with Andy Robertson free in the box.

With Diogo Jota still injured and the front three simply not firing, Klopp must find solutions fast. He may choose to deviate from his tried-and-tested formula by naming Shaqiri in attack as Liverpool face another stubborn opposition in Burnley on Thursday.

5. Lindelof recalled as Shaw impresses



Lindelof returned to the starting XI in place of Bailly
Lindelof returned to the starting XI in place of Bailly

Eric Bailly may have felt aggrieved to lose his spot in the XI after helping Manchester United keep two clean sheets and concede just one goal in their last three Premier League games.

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But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer recalled Victor Lindelof to partner Harry Maguire for the trip to Liverpool – and was rewarded for his decision.

The Sweden international impressed with his composure and position play, helping blunt Liverpool’s attacking threat with his interceptions and reading of the game.

Solskjaer has settled on Lindelof and Maguire as his first-choice pairing, while Luke Shaw is benefiting from an extended run as the club’s go-to left-back.

Spurred on by the competition of Alex Telles, Shaw continued his fine form with an industrious display at Anfield which helped keep Mohamed Salah quiet, while his work going forward also caught the eye.

6. Henderson fills in alongside Fabinho



Henderson partnered Fabinho in central defence
Henderson partnered Fabinho in central defence

There was also a selection dilemma at the heart of Liverpool’s defence, with Jurgen Klopp ultimately deciding to continue with Jordan Henderson at centre-back.

The captain partnered Fabinho, meaning the Reds had two natural midfielders playing at the back as stand-in options Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips watched on from the bench.

Henderson was up to the task and his positional work meant he was rarely exposed – but the Reds will be happy when the 30-year-old returns to midfield with Joel Matip’s imminent return to fitness.

7. Alisson lives up to praise

Gary Neville hailed Alisson as Liverpool’s “most important player” ahead of the match – and the Brazilian was on hand to make the game’s most important save against Manchester United.

Alisson was not called into action until the second half, when Bruno Fernandes’ shot from range came straight at him.

But he remained alert and made a fantastic reaction save to deny Fernandes’ close-range effort with 15 minutes remaining.

Alisson also denied Paul Pogba in the closing stages to prevent United snatching a winner which would have extended their lead at the top of the Premier League to five points.

They were two big saves which reaffirmed Alisson’s huge importance to Jurgen Klopp’s side.

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