Liverpool left frustrated by super De Gea as Manchester United earn valuable point
Liverpool 0 - Man Utd 0
Not for the first time, Jose Mourinho emerged from Anfield having seen his tactical blueprint work to the letter, but on this occasion he had to thank goalkeeper David de Gea for administering another dose of frustration for Liverpool.
It was cagey, rarely exciting and wholly lacking in controversy but a point at Anfield is always a valuable currency and with Chelsea to come at the weekend and a League Cup tie against Manchester City next midweek, Manchester United will regard this as a point gained.
Liverpool, so adventurous so far this season, failed to turn up, but two second-half saves by De Gea from Emre Can and Philippe Coutinho, plus a crucial goal-saving tackle by Antonio Valencia on Roberto Firmino, ultimately denied them a victory they would barely have deserved.
Facing the prospect of falling five points adrift of the top four with a defeat against United's greatest rivals, the stakes seemed higher for Mourinho than Jurgen Klopp.
Liverpool's eye-catching start to the season, impressive victories at Arsenal and Chelsea and Klopp's record of having lost once in five previous encounters with Mourinho suggested Anfield was the last place United would be kick-starting their season.
They may have won their last four league encounters with the old enemy, but the timid surrender on this ground in the Europa League last season was the performance that had set alarm bells ringing for United supporters.
So with Mourinho starting without Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney, at the same time as handing Ashley Young his first league start since United's 1-0 win here on January 17, the game-plan appeared to be one of containment.
But Mourinho went the other way, setting out in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with £89m world record signing Paul Pogba in an attacking role behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Anfield was screaming for the home team to take the game to United, but Mourinho's blue shirts were first to every ball and Daniel Sturridge, making his 100th appearance for Liverpool, cut an isolated figure.
Mourinho applauded and encouraged, but his players were unable to make their early dominance count.
Ibrahimovic had the first opportunity with a sixth-minute free-kick, but the Swede sent his effort flying high into the stand. Pogba then sent another long-range effort over before the Frenchman sent a Marouane Fellaini shot goalwards with a deflection. Loris Karius caught that one easily, as he did with a deflected Ibrahimovic shot moments later.
Klopp, meanwhile, was going frantic in his technical area with his players repeatedly coming second best.
Emre Can responded with a run upfield, but the German's shot was as accurate as those from Ibrahimovic and Pogba. It was not until the 30th minute that De Gea was forced into action, with the United keeper making easy work of plucking Roberto Firmino's header out of the air.
United unquestionably went in happier at the interval. Could Klopp engineer a swing in the opposite direction in the second half and somehow ignite the high-intensity game that has proved so destructive this season?
At the outset, the answer was no, with the Liverpool manager sticking with the 11 players who had started the game and his lack of action enabled United to maintain their stranglehold.
Pogba and Ibrahimovic continued to chase down Karius and the Liverpool defenders and the goalkeeper almost gifted United a goal on 49 minutes when his loose ball was picked up by Pogba, only for the United midfielder to wastefully pass to the clearly offside Ibrahimovic.
Five minutes later, Pogba picked out Ibrahimovic but his header bounced across the face of the goal.
Liverpool continued to look disjointed and Can summed up their evening when he stumbled into the box, created a scoring chance and scuffed the ball goalwards. De Gea, nonetheless, was forced to produce a crucial save.
Klopp had seen enough and the ineffective Sturridge was replaced with Adam Lallana.
With half an hour left, both teams appeared to become consumed by the fear of losing rather than driven on by the fruits of victory. And it required a stunning save by De Gea from Coutinho to spark the game back into life on 71 minutes.
Nothing looked to be on when the Brazilian picked up the ball 35 yards from goal, but he unleashed a right-foot strike that appeared destined for the top corner until De Gea palmed the shot away with his upper hand.
Valencia produced an equally crucial intervention on 84 minutes with a perfectly-timed tackle inside the penalty area to take the ball off Firmino's toes.
liverpool: Karius, Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner (Moreno 86), Can, Henderson, Coutinho, Mane, Sturridge (Lallana 60), Firmino (Origi 85).
Subs not used: Grujic, Klavan, Lucas, Mignolet.
MAN UTD: De Gea, Valencia, Bailly, Smalling, Blind, Herrera, Fellaini, Rashford (Rooney 77), Pogba, Young (Shaw 90), Ibrahimovic.
Subs not used: Rojo, Mata, Lingard, Carrick, Romero.
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Man of the match: David de Gea
Match rating: 5/10