It was given the big build and both sides gave it their all, but in truth, the 0-0 draw between Liverpool and Man Utd had the worrying feeling of two teams scrapping for leftovers.
Liverpool huffed and puffed and as they’re recently prone to do, barely forced a save of note from the opposition’s goalkeeper.
On the other hand, the much-maligned defence gave Bruno Fernandes his quietest outing of the season. Additionally, a pair of midfielders out of position at centre-half comfortably outplayed Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. Rashford in particular will be seeing offside flags in his nightmares.
It was not the result we all wanted, but as ever, conclusions can be drawn from the smouldering wreckage.
These are LFCUncensored’s top six things that became glaringly obvious in the Anfield fallout.
1. Trent, just… breathe
Trent Alexander-Arnold has endured what can only be described as a nightmare start to the year.
Against Southampton he broke the season’s league record for most amount of times possession was given away (38). We can only assume he came close to breaking that mark today.
With just two PL assists to his name all season, this is not the Trent we all know and love. Clearly lacking in confidence, TAA is attempting to make up for his lack of attacking returns with every pass he makes.
His radar improved slightly today, but it was always a 25-yarder here, a 40-yarder there, a cross from closer to half-way than the byline. Trent, in the unlikely event that you’re reading this, take a deep breath and chill the f*** out.
He is too talented and too special to remain in this slump for long, but he is his own worst enemy right now. If the avenue is not open, do not force it. There’s a man in the middle called Thiago who would very much like to see more of the ball.
One step at a time, Trent.
2. Crossing… let’s talk
Despite their size, Liverpool’s regular front three are all surprisingly adept in the air. But being a competent header of the ball should not warrant an aimless lob into the box every time the momentum of an attack breaks down.
Roberto Firmino stands tallest at 5’11. Being generous, we put his chances at winning a contested aerial duel with [insert PL CB here] at 10%.
Liverpool have found great success from the wide areas in recent times, of that there is no doubt. But the vast majority of successful deliveries from the flanks have come from early distribution into the corridor of uncertainty between the retreating defence and goalkeeper.
When the attack slows and the defence are set, aiming to pick out the head of Mane or Salah while wrestling with Harry Maguire-types is a glorified way of surrendering possession. Quite frankly, you may as well put it out for a throw and save us all the trouble.
At the risk of repeating ourselves, can we please stop pretending we have Alan Shearer up front and perhaps recycle the ball to that brand-new Spaniard in the middle? It’s what we’re paying him for after all.
3. Where would we be without Fabinho?
On a positive note, Fabinho continues to be absolutely phenomenal. Exceptional positional intelligence, anticipation and composure on the ball. There's a strong argument he's been Liverpool's player of the season so far.
— Joel Rabinowitz (@joel_archie) January 17, 2021
When the season concludes in May, many people’s team of the season may have an unfamiliar feel.
Putting Fabinho in a team of the year won’t make headlines, but putting him in at centre-half certainly will. Look across the league and name me two centre-halves who have performed better than our magnificent Brazilian.
Ruben Dias springs to mind, but beyond that you’re getting into Jannik Vestergaard, Kurt Zouma and John Stones territory. Thanks but no thanks.
This season has had enough ups and downs to last a lifetime. Liverpool remain in title contention despite their winless streak extending to four, but without Fabinho we suspect our season’s objective may have already shifted to securing top four.
Fabinho was outstanding again today and despite his countryman Alisson Becker’s late heroics, was comfortably the best player on the pitch. The most amazing thing is his lofty performances out of position are no longer a pleasant surprise.
What. A. Player.
4. The Firmino debate
We need to have a chat about Roberto again. Yes, yes, we know, he brings far more to the team than just goals. But let’s be real, his interplay with Salah and Mane at times in that first-half was bordering on the inept.
UK Broadcaster Sky Sports predicted Klopp would line his men up in a 4-2-3-1 formation pre-match. That would see Mane, Firmino and Shaqiri in an advanced three behind Salah at centre-forward. We’re more than a little disappointed this did not happen.
Salah is painfully predictable out on the right. Put him central and defenders can no longer sell out predicting which way he will go.
Harry Kane is enjoying his best season yet and in their victory over Sheffield United, could’ve easily been mistaken for a number 10. Firmino is in desperate need of one of two things – a seat on the bench or a change of scenery.
Diogo Jota’s impending return could force the former, but until then we’d like to see Firmino deployed deeper. Even if it fails, it can’t be any worse than things are now.
5. A test was passed
When news broke Joel Matip would miss out again, the question turned to who would partner Fabinho at the back. Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips have done what they can, but the simple fact is neither are Premier League standard at the present stage in their careers.
On paper, this was the toughest test yet in Jordan Henderson’s limited career as a makeshift centre-half. He passed it with flying colours. The pace of Rashford and Martial was the headline-grabbing threat, but the aerial prowess of Man Utd’s plethora of six-foot-plus monsters promised to be just as big of an issue.
For the most part, Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba, Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Rashford got little change out of Liverpool’s undersized eleven in the air.
Matip will soon return, but we all know it is an inevitability the treatment table will again come calling.
When it does, Henderson should be the man chosen to plug the gap.
6. There was a winner
For weeks we’ve been hearing rumblings about Man Utd being a credible candidate to lift the PL crown. Sunday’s encounter did not lack for passion and effort, but the all-important ingredient of quality was glaringly absent at times.
A 0-0 did little for the title tilts of either side involved as both sets of attackers struggled to find a winner. A winner on the day was found further along the M62 motorway, however, at the Etihad in fact.
While talk of Liverpool and Man Utd duelling for the title has hoovered up vast quantities of column inches, Pep Guardiola’s Man City have quietly gone about their work.
Five wins on the spin with just a single goal conceded, City are once again the league’s hot favourites.
LFCUncensored have been touting City as Liverpool’s true title rival this season for months on end. Any team that finishes above the sky blues will lift the trophy this season.
Unfortunately right now, it’s beginning to appear like no team will.