Going into their game against table topping Manchester United, most Liverpool pre-match analysis focused on their lack of defensive options.
The story went that pairing Fabinho and Jordan Henderson at center-back would be a disaster, especially with a resurgent Paul Pogba and the irrepressible Bruno Fernandes to contend with. However, by the time the final whistle was blown at Anfield, it was not Liverpool’s makeshift defenders who were making headlines.
Against United, both Henderson and Fabinho were extremely solid. Although not placed under a great deal of pressure, when called into action they responded with all the calmness of professionals who have been playing alongside each other for years.
So, if their defense was not being place under the microscope at full time, who was? Well, almost unbelievably, it was the once invincible trio of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino being scrutinized.
Liverpool’s three headed, attacking dragon have been one of, if not the best forward line in Europe for the past three years. The goals, assists and general good vibes they have brought to Merseyside in recent seasons are legendary but right now, all is not well.
The 0-0 draw against United on Sunday means the Reds have not scored in any of their past three Premier League games with Mane’s strike in a 1-1 draw against West Brom the last time Liverpool toasted a league strike.
The scoreless run is made more worrying by the amount of possession the Reds have enjoyed during this frustrating period – they have averaged over 70% and returned just one goal – and in no game was their lack of cutting edge more frustrating than during their most recent outing against their old rivals.
The Reds’ first half dominance was quite startling. Xherdan Shaqiri, Thiago Alcantara and Georginio Wijnaldum combined neatly with both full-backs to cut through United’s midfield with ease. At times, the United pair – Bruno Fernandes did next to nothing to help out – were left chasing shadows, with Scott McTominay in particular struggling to assert himself.
Thiago did a fine job of running the show on what was his first ever Anfield appearance, looking a cut above even the incredible Fernandes and Pogba early on. Despite this, the Reds never seriously looked like scoring.
When the ball moved into the final third, their approach play seemed to be conducted at double speed and this frenetic build-up led to several basic, passing errors. Salah and Wijnaldum were the main offenders, surrendering possession ten times between them during the opening 45 minutes.
There were also countless if less measurable moments of poor decision making. Roberto Firmino committed the worst of these, failing to slide Andy Robertson in for what would have been a near certain shot on goal.
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s decision making was also poor. The right-back looked badly shot of confidence, neglecting to take on Luke Shaw with any gusto, instead playing it safe with hopeful crosses from deep.
This mojo-less attacking display was not arrested after the break. In fact, it got even worse. Not even Salah nor Mane, Liverpool’s get out of jail free cards in the past, could muster up a moment of magic. In the end, United comfortably created the better chances, despite being pummeled early on.
At the end of the game, the stats made for grim reading. Only one of Firmino’s five shots had hit the target, while none of Salah’s three attempts forced a save out of David de Gea.
The result maintains United’s three point lead over Liverpool and Manchester City could go above them, if they manage to beat Crystal Palace. The Reds’ front three need to regain their form quickly to prevent this scoreless run becoming an albatross around their neck in the title race.