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Wednesday 20 November 2019

Aidan Fitzmaurice: 'Liverpool have to ensure that this was just a one-off'

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp blast out instructions from the sidelines. Photo: REUTERS/Russell Cheyne
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp blast out instructions from the sidelines. Photo: REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

Even before a ball was kicked at Old Trafford, Manchester United's former captain was annoyed, the sight of rivals players in the tunnel "hugging and kissing" earning the wrath of Roy Keane.

He predicted that we were about to witness players "going to war" so the back-slapping and banter was out of place.

Yet we didn't get war, or anything close to it. What emerged over 90 minutes which were tense, though not utterly enthralling, was more like a cold war. Three shots fired in anger, two allowed to land on their target by the referee, and most people going home only a bit happy with what they had seen.

Liverpool remain unbeaten and stay clear at the top of the table, in sight of ending their title famine: job done.

Manchester United had avoided what was predicted to be a heavy beating; not only that, they had prevented Liverpool from extending their winning run and made the league leaders sweat for a long spell. Also, job done.

Maybe it's a sign of how low standards have dropped at Old Trafford that accepting a 1-1 draw against Liverpool, in a game where they had home advantage and the advantage of an early goal, is seen as a Good Day Out.

Yet in the cold light of day today, away from all the tension and the hot air, the 1-1 draw will be welcomed by United, gurdgingly accepted by Liverpool but really celebrated by Manchester City, still six points off the lead but with the hope in the City camp that they have come through their early-season blip while Liverpool, possibly, are only starting theirs.

City have had their flaws exposed this season by the fangs (Wolves) and claws (the Canaries of Norwich) of rivals.

With winnable home games (against Aston Villa and Southampton) on the way between now and next month's clash with Liverpool, the table could have a different complexion after that Liverpool-City game.

Because we saw here at Old Trafford that a side seen by some as champions-elect have feet of clay. A goal denied by a VAR decision can't disguise the fact that this was sub-standard Liverpool, a United side there for the taking but not taken.

There's so much hot air around this fixture and not just in the balloons which fans bring along. It's easy to open the history book and mock: the number of years since Liverpool last won the league, the European Cup titles won by the Anfield side, with idiots on both sides content to sully the air with songs about Munich or Hillsborough.

But in the end we gleaned only small nuggets of information about the two teams.

Yes, United can play with a bit of passion and swagger. Their goal, made from a storming run by a wide player and finished off by a deadly centre forward, is the sort of stuff that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is keen to revive.

He's hoping it's stored in the club's DNA and able to be revived like some sort of Jurassic Park experiment.

Even with the absence of key men, and the loss of another player in the warm-up, United had things their way, the gods of VAR smiling on them twice. But Liverpool were able to cast aside their sluggishness and uncharacteristic lack of sharpness and nick a goal, and a draw, thanks to a substitute.

Jurgen Klopp's Old Trafford famine goes on, but Liverpool have to ensure this is a one-off and not a habit they are about to start.

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