On the January 19, 2020, Manchester United faced Liverpool at Anfield in the Premier League, hoping and praying not to get humiliated. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, just over a year into his tenure, set his team up in a back five with the aim of keeping it as tight at the back as possible against an extremely potent front three.
With only moments left in the match, United had a corner kick – their last attempt to level the match. Alisson Becker caught the cross into the box and immediately found Mohammed Salah making a darting run towards the goal, with no United defenders back to stop him.
The Egyptian latched onto the superb ball by the Brazilian goalkeeper, slotted past David De Gea at the Kop end to make it 2-0, and sealed yet another three points for the home side en route to their eventual title win. From a United perspective, the win put their arch-rivals 30 points ahead of them in the league and no fan could help but feel absolutely inferior in that moment - if not utterly dejected.
👑🏆@MoSalah's injury-time clincher against @ManUtd has won our Goal of the Month award for January 👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/L4exP2NH6dFebruary 7, 2020
Fast forward approximately 12 months. Solskjaer’s men made the trip to Anfield once more in the Premier League, almost with a hint of superiority this time, sitting three points ahead of the champions prior to kick-off with the possibility of extending that lead to six with a win.
Even the Norwegian’s formation choice had an air of confidence about it, deploying a back four as opposed to a back five from the season prior, with a clear belief that his side could go to Anfield and possibly snatch all three points as well as end Liverpool’s 67-match unbeaten run at home in the Premier League.
Unfortunately, the game ended goalless and the spoils were shared. Liverpool increased their unbeaten home record to 68 games and stay within three points of the 20-time champions.
Nevertheless, it is not all bad for Solskjaer and his team. Anfield is and always will be one of the toughest stadiums to get a result in – even without fans – but United did just that. They also managed to keep a clean sheet, which is the first time that Liverpool have failed to score at home since October 2018 against Manchester City.
The Manchester United backline was outstanding throughout the match, with Jurgen Klopp’s men being limited to merely three shots on target during the entire game. Luke Shaw, in particular, was tremendous for the visitors, keeping Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold at bay down Liverpool’s right side.
United could have taken all three points from that game as they certainly had the better of the chances, especially two clear-cut chances in similar positions taken by Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba. However, both struck the ball too close to the goalkeeper.
Regardless, even saying that United could – and possibly should – have won the match against a team like Liverpool tells you everything you need to know about the progression made by the club over the past 12 months on the pitch.
The Premier League season has only reached its halfway point now. League positions may fluctuate in the coming months with merely five points separating sixth-place Everton and Manchester United at the top, but the main aspect to take away from Sunday’s fixture is the fact that United have come so far in the last year under Solskjaer.
With some astute signings in the summer transfer window, to tactical tweaks such as playing Pogba as a wide playmaker, the Red Devils have clawed their way into serious title contention for the first time in nearly eight years.
While it’s still highly unlikely that United will remain in first place come May, at the midpoint the team are already sitting pretty at the top following Sunday evening’s draw, proving once again that they are moving in the right direction under their Norwegian boss.
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