Liverpool and Manchester United played out a goalless and uneventful stalemate on a disappointing night at Anfield.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool would have drawn level on points with leaders Manchester City with a fifth successive Premier League victory, but were subdued by a classic Jose Mourinho performance of defensive organisation and discipline.
United did not allow Liverpool to build the momentum and intensity that has characterised their game this season, while Mourinho’s limited attacking ambitions ensured chances were at a premium.
The Portuguese was still grateful for two fine second-half saves from goalkeeper David de Gea, who dived low to stop Emre Can and saved athletically from Philippe Coutinho’s 25-yard effort.
United’s best chance also came in the second half, but the unmarked Zlatan Ibrahimovic directed Paul Pogba’s cross off target.
The visitors had just 35% of possession – their lowest in a Premier League match since Opta began recording the data in 2003-04.
While this deadlock does little for the ambitions of both teams, there is no doubt who will be the happier manager.
This was, in so many respects, the most Mourinho performance of his short time at United.
Klopp came on to the pitch at the final whistle to applaud Liverpool’s fans, but there was a tinge of disappointment in his measured tread as he trudged off.
His side’s promising start to the season has been built on pressing opponents into submission – a high-pressure style that has brought victories at Arsenal and Chelsea, as well as nine goals in two home wins against Leicester City and Hull City.
But Mourinho picked a powerful, athletic side and instructed them to turn the tables on Liverpool’s pressing game.
Ander Herrera was at the heart of United’s smothering gameplan, almost operating in the pockets of Coutinho and Roberto Firmino in midfield, while Liverpool were never given a second.
They simply could not find a way through.
United held their shape and discipline, much to their manager’s satisfaction, although he still needed those two superb saves from De Gea, and a magnificent saving tackle from Antonio Valencia to stop Firmino as he raced in on goal.
It was classic Mourinho, a tactic he has perfected and utilised throughout his career, and Anfield’s increasing anger and frustration will have been music to his ears.
This match should have been the perfect stage for the £89m Pogba – but once again he was a peripheral figure.
The world’s most expensive player was used in a more advanced role and is certainly on the same wavelength as Ibrahimovic, delivering a perfect cross which the Swede should have converted.
In other aspects, though, he operated on the margins of the game and failed to exert the influence expected of a player of his quality and experience.
United will expect much more as the season goes on.
Referee Taylor keeps control
Anthony Taylor was the man in the middle in every sense after the heat generated by the appointment of the Manchester-based official for a meeting between these two fierce rivals.
Mourinho said the appointment made it “difficult” for Taylor, and put him under pressure – comments being investigated by the Football Association – while former referee Keith Hackett even suggested it represented a risk to his and his family’s safety.
It certainly increased the scrutiny on Taylor, who felt the wrath of The Kop within minutes – complete with colourful reminders about his place of residence – when he did not book Marcus Rashford for a foul on James Milner.
It was to the official’s credit that he did not buckle in the atmosphere, kept discipline without resorting to a rash of yellow cards, and controlled a game that always has explosive potential.