PERHAPS, after the sheer weight of expectation that accompanied this fixture, a goalless draw was an entirely predictable outcome but, with some more clinical finishing from Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, this could have been a very different story.
A point each certainly suited Ole Gunnar Solskjaer more than it did Jurgen Klopp although the big winner at Anfield may not even have been in the stadium last night - if Manchester City continue their recent improvements into 2021, this result will suit them down to the ground.
But Solskjaer could be pleased. After all, there is still that three-point gap for United over Liverpool, an astonishing statistic given that after United lost at Anfield almost exactly a year ago to the day last season, they trailed their rivals by 30.
And even if winning the title proves beyond his team this season, there can be no doubt that the club has made more progress under the Norwegian in the past year than at any time since the retirement of Alex Ferguson.
Yet there is also the very real possibility that, come season’s end, Solskjaer will look back at the two points dropped here as a case of what-might-have-beens.
And there were two moments, above all others, that might have been.
On 75 minutes, the impressive Luke Shaw sprinted down the left-wing and still had the composure to find Fernandes in space only eight yards out, with the Portuguese star striking the ball at the outstretched leg of Alisson.
And seven minutes from time, intelligent play from Aaron Wan-Bissaka made room for Pogba who should have given Alisson no chance instead of offering him the opportunity to save at the foot of his near post.
“Some people will think we’re happier than them with a point but we came to the game wanting to win,” said United captain Harry Maguire.
“You could see from our intent in the second half, we wanted to go on and get three points and I’m sure we’ll all feel a little bit disappointed we didn’t.
“You can see from our performance here compared to last year – it was tight, edgy, we weren’t brave at all, we were a bit timid, didn’t play on the front foot. This shows how far we’ve come though we’re not getting carried away, there is a lot of improvement to be done.”
But not as much improvement as Liverpool need to make – a seemingly ludicrous statement given that the defending champions have now amassed 68 home league games without defeat.
The more relevant statistic for Klopp to factor in is the one in the goals for column. For the first time in 15 years, a Liverpool side has now played three consecutive league games without scoring and, more worryingly, until Thiago Alcantara tested David de Gea from long range in the 77th minute last night, they did not really look like ending that run.
“Overall, I felt we were the better team,” said Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson. “I would say the performance levels haven't been up to our standards in the past few week.
“But that seems to be the problem at the moment. In the box, finding that little bit of luck, the ball dropping to someone, ricocheting in off someone. That can happen but, hopefully, that can change quickly.”
Liverpool’s front three of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have, rightly, been regarded as one of the most efficient in Europe in recent seasons but, currently, lack their killer instinct of old.
That fact, coupled with United’s impressive away form and the statistic of being unbeaten on their domestic travels now for over 12 months, was always going to make this a tricky night for Klopp.
Certainly, United’s improved defensive play offered little hope for Liverpool who took until just after the hour to threaten the visitors’ goal properly, after a rare slip by Shaw saw Salah presented with an opening which was deflected just wide.
Of course, while Liverpool’s front three remain unchanged from recent years, Klopp has had to contend with injuries elsewhere in his team that have upset the overall balance of his side, none more so than in the centre of defence.
After Joel Matip failed a late fitness test, Henderson and Fabinho were the emergency central defenders on this occasion although they more than held their own despite the threat posed by a United side that was happy to use the pace of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford and play on the counter-attack.
“There’s a lot of talk about first choice centre-halves but even after all their injuries, they’ve had a great defensive record,” said Maguire. “It just shows they have a lot of options there.”
In fact, while Henderson and Fabinho looked rock solid, it was the form of attacking full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson that has been the greater concern, with the pair failing to make anywhere near the impact on Liverpool’s style of play that they have made in the past.
Soslkjaer selected Pogba on the right-side of midfield specifically to nullify the threat posed by Robertson’s marauding runs and the tactic worked a treat.
Instead, it was through the middle that Liverpool threatened early, through Thiago and Xherdan Shaqiri, but so improved have United been in recent weeks that they were comfortably able to ride that storm and, eventually, coast to a deserved point.
Alisson 8; Alexander-Arnold 6, Fabinho 8, Henderson 7, Robertson 6; Thiago 7, Shaqiri 6 (Jones 76, 6), Wijnaldum 6 (Milner 89, 6); Mane 7, Firmino 5 (Origi 85, 6), Salah 6.
Subs not used: Kelleher, R Williams, N Williams, Phillips, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Minamino.
De Gea 6; Wan-Bissaka 7, Lindelof 7, Maguire 8, Shaw 9; McTominay 6, Fred 6; Pogba 7, Fernandes 6 (Greenwood 89, 6), Martial 5 (Cavani 61, 6); Rashford 6.
Henderson, Bailly, Telles, Tuanzebe, Mata, Matic, van de Beek
Paul Tierney 7