Manchester United real contenders but probably just short for title

Manchester United and Liverpool battled to a 0-0 draw at Anfield on Sunday evening, in a game that told plenty about the title credentials of the visitors.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side came with the game plan that has become almost expected of them against the top teams, with a double pivot of Scott McTominay and Fred in front of a back four to ensure stability.

While Luke Shaw had arguably the best game of his Manchester United career and Aaron Wan-Bissaka dealt with the threat of Sadio Mane well, the centre backs didn’t have too much defending to do despite Liverpool’s possession dominance.

The midfield two were poor on the ball, while Bruno Fernandes had probably his worst game in a United shirt to date and it meant that they struggled to create chances of their own. Anthony Martial was lively on a few occasions after playing on the left wing, while Marcus Rashford struggle to make an impact as the centre forward.

It was still the visitors who created the best chances of the game though. Fernandes missed a big chance from six yards out after good work down the left from Rashford and Shaw, with Allison producing a fine save with his feet. Paul Pogba also missed a clear chance from about 10 yards out, after Wan-Bissaka’s cutback found him in space, but he hit it straight at the keeper.

While it may not have been much, it did seem like the game was there for the taking for United to move six points clear of the champions.

Defensively they were solid and Liverpool never really created any clear cut chances in the game and Solskjaer’s only substitution prior to the 88th minute was a straight swap that saw Edinson Cavani come on for Martial.

Despite small periods where they were on top and looked dangerous in transition, United never really went for it. It’s a bit of a what if moment.

It’s very possible that had they gone for it, they’d have got a goal. Jordan Henderson was barely tested while filling in at centre back and Alexander-Arnold’s rough run of form continued.

It’s also equally possible however that had Solskjaer pushed the envelope that little bit further, that could have been the opportunity Liverpool needed to get a winning goal of their own. I’d imagine that Solskjaer weighed the pros and cons of the decision and decided a point at Anfield is probably never a bad thing, especially if you’re top of the league.

But it means that against the usual ‘big six’ plus Leicester and Everton this season, United have won just once in the League and scored only six goals. It’s a sign of their mentality in these games that they don’t seem to go for the jugular.

In those seven games against the “top” sides in the division, United have just seven points from a possible 21 despite playing four of them at Old Trafford. It’s hard to make a case that they deserved more than they got from any of the games either, except maybe the Arsenal game were a draw was probably the fairer result on the balance of play.

It’s something that the management need to address as we head into the second half of the season. If they don’t start taking risks to get all three points, these results become two points dropped rather than a point gained.

United have been an exceptional second half side for much of this season in games, they need that to transfer over to the second half of the season too.

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