Liverpool vs. Man United was chaos, but Reds will regret missed chances

MANCHESTER, England — Manchester United’s biggest achievement this season could ultimately be little more than denying Jurgen Klopp a title-winning farewell as Liverpool manager. But if that’s the case, they will have absolutely no idea how they did it.

In three games against their bitter rivals this season — twice in the Premier League and once in the FA Cup — Liverpool have created 87 chances against United and failed to win a single game. Sunday’s chaotic 2-2 draw at Old Trafford was another story of wastefulness that could yet cost them the title.

“We should have won the game, that is clear,” Klopp said, with some understatement, after the game.

Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk was more candid about his team’s failure to win and return to the top. “It feels like a loss; it is our fault again,” he told the BBC. “We had so many chances and we should finish the game off. We should have been 2-0 up at least [by half-time], but in football, unfortunately, if these things don’t happen, you give them the feeling they could come back. And it happened.”

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Klopp’s team carved out 28 chances in the game and should have been comfortably ahead by half-time after taking the lead through Luis Díaz. But two stunning second-half United goals — a 45-yard strike by Bruno Fernandes and a majestic curling effort by Kobbie Mainoo — left Liverpool relying on Mohamed Salah to salvage a point with an 84th-minute penalty following a careless tackle by Aaron Wan-Bissaka on Harvey Elliott.

Back in December, Liverpool created 34 chances during a 0-0 draw at Anfield — the only game in which they have failed to score this season — and the epic FA Cup quarterfinal between the two sides last month, which United won 4-3, saw Klopp’s players create 25 chances.

United have been pummelled and pulled apart by Liverpool every time they have met this season, but they have managed to knock them out of the cup and now have denied them crucial points in the race for the title. Erik ten Hag’s team might yet win the FA Cup this season, but even if they manage that, the joy of helping to derail Liverpool’s charge to the title — which would equal United’s all-time haul of 20 — will taste just as sweet for United’s supporters.

Yet all of the above has largely been achieved by luck rather than smart tactical work by United. And the luck has centred on Liverpool failing to take golden chances to win each of those games.

When the dust settles on this season, such a closely fought title race will come down to the finest of margins. Right now, with seven games to play, just one point separates third-place Manchester City from leaders Arsenal. Liverpool sit second, level on points with the Gunners but behind on goal difference due to a deficit of nine on Mikel Arteta’s side.

Had Luis Diaz scored in the fifth minute of stoppage time, when he shot high over the crossbar from inside the six-yard box, Liverpool would have won the game and moved two points clear. It was a clear chance, maybe the best of the game, but the ball ended up among the United supporters behind André Onana’s goal.

It would be harsh to pin the dropped points on Diaz, especially as he had given Liverpool the lead in the first place. Defender Jarell Quansah was also at fault when his loose pass was cut out by Fernandes before the United captain scored with his audacious shot to equalise on 50 minutes. But, ultimately, Liverpool failed to collect all three points because they repeatedly let United off the hook by failing to score when they should have done.

Salah, Diaz, Dominik Szoboszlai were all guilty of spurning simple chances, but it was the sheer volume of them that is an indictment of Liverpool’s finishing.

Tactically, they had United beaten because Klopp and his players knew that their rapid counter-attacks would expose the home side’s lack of defensive discipline. Time after time, Liverpool broke with four or five forwards against three United defenders, but the end result was always the same: indecision and wasted opportunities.

Only Arsenal (75) have scored more goals than Liverpool (72) in the Premier League this season, but in those tight games when goals carry extra weight and importance, Arsenal have the edge. The Gunners have beaten both City and Liverpool this season, and United, at the Emirates; Klopp’s side have drawn twice against both City and United, and drawn at home to Arsenal. Their failure to win any of those games could be their undoing in the title race.

With Arsenal, Liverpool and City each having 21 points to play for this season, the title race looks like it is going to run down to the final weekend, and maybe even the final minutes, of the campaign.

Liverpool should be approaching the home straight with a healthy lead, but the four points they have dropped in two games against United are beginning to look extremely costly.

“As far as I know, we are still in the race, so it is fine,” Klopp said. “The whole Liverpool community, just stay calm. We are where we are, and we keep giving it a proper go. Do I wish we had 10 points’ difference? Of course. But we take what we got and keep going.”

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