Manchester United proved a stifling presence at Anfield once again as they closed out a 0-0 draw with Liverpool.
Jose Mourinho’s side were criticised for a lack of ambition in last season’s stalemate and any change in approach brought about by their lofty position in the Premier League was negligible on this occasion.
United, who edged one point ahead Manchester City at the summit ahead of their neighbours hosting Stoke City, had David de Gea to thank for a magnificent first-half save to deny Joel Matip.
Romelu Lukaku was unable to make it eight goals in as many top-flight games for Mourinho’s men when he botched a one-on-one opportunity on the stroke of half-time.
If it was mildly perplexing to see a side in such previously prolific goalscoring form isolate Lukaku for long periods before the break, the second period descended into a Liverpool attack versus United defence.
Jurgen Klopp’s men were unable to find a way through and have now won just one out of eight in all competitions – Mourinho must hope he does not regret showing so much respect to opponents in such form come May.
Anfield rose to acclaim club great Kenny Dalglish before kick-off, the ground’s Centenary Stand having been renamed in his honour, but the early exchanges were desperately short on the moments of attacking inspiration the Scotland international made his calling card.
Antonio Valencia made an expertly timed tackle on Philippe Coutinho following a darting crossfield run from Mohamed Salah – Liverpool’s brightest forward, who was just unable to turn in Roberto Firmino’s deflected 20th-minute cross at the near post.
United enjoyed their best spell of the first half around the half hour, when Nemanja Matic sliced an ambitious left-footed effort just beyond the top corner, but they had goalkeeper De Gea to thank for preserving parity in the 34th minute.
Firmino was the provider once more and centre-back Joel Matip – still up from a half-cleared corner – prodded goalwards from close range, only for De Gea to brilliantly intervene with his boot. From the rebound Salah skewed his shot wastefully wide
Romelu Lukaku was largely forced to feed off scraps up front for United and drew Anfield ire for clashes with Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren.
In between those flashpoints he should have scored a 43rd minute opener following fine interplay from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial, but Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet stood firm.
Philippe Coutinho was to the fore as Liverpool began the second half in the ascendancy and his compatriot Firmino saw a speculative strike deflected into the side netting with De Gea wrongfooted.
The Brazilian duo were punching encouraging gaps into United’s compact defensive set-up as Georginio Wijnaldum lifted an attempt over before Emre Can failed to convert a magnificent 56th-minute cross from Gomez.
Coutinho went down tamely in search of a penalty as the hour passed and a seemingly vulnerable United doubled down on their limited approach.
A scampering Salah saw a Firmino cross agonisingly evade him at the far post in the 71st minute and clear-cut chances proved elusive.
Liverpool have 13 points from eight matches and could conclude the weekend in ninth position.
United will be no lower than second after a dispiritingly limited venture that an injury list featuring Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini should not excuse.
Key Opta Facts:
– Jose Mourinho has won only one of his eight matches as a manager against Jurgen Klopp in all competitions (W1 D4 L3).
– Liverpool and Manchester United have drawn three consecutive league meetings for the first time since 1921.
– Manchester United have equalled their best points tally after the first eight matches of a Premier League season (20 points) also in the 11/12 & 99/00
– United have kept a clean sheet in nine of their last 10 league games. Indeed, the Red Devils have recorded 18 clean sheets in the Premier League in 2017, the most in the competition.
– Neither side landed a single shot on target in the second half.
– United have landed exactly one shot on target in three of their last four Premier League games against Liverpool.