ANFIELD ONLINE MATCH REPORT
Jose Mourinho was the only winner in the heavyweight Premiership clash at Anfield as Liverpool and Manchester United both lost further ground on Premiership champions Chelsea.
There could be no complaints about the industry on show but, Steven Gerrard apart, there was a distinct lack of quality and a major improvement is required if either club is to provide a genuine challenge to the seemingly unstoppable Stamford Bridge machine.
After a tepid first-half, Gerrard tried to bring the contest to life, glancing one header over, forcing Edwin van der Sar into his best save and providing the assists for two Luis Garcia chances, both of which went begging.
United offered little in return, Ruud van Nistelrooy wasting their most obvious opportunity just before the break but the sight of a subdued Wayne Rooney trudging to the touchline near the end as he was replaced by Darren Fletcher summed it all up.
The two most successful sides in English football history approached the contest in the sure knowledge a failure to collect maximum points would leave them struggling to claw Chelsea back.
Even at this early stage, the margin for error is almost non-existent, so the thunderous start, particularly from the visitors, was totally expected.
Having stationed fit-again Roy Keane with fellow firebrand Alan Smith in front of his defence, Sir Alex Ferguson set his stall out not to let Liverpool through and though the hosts huffed and puffed, the tactic largely succeeded.
It must have been intensely frustrating for Rafael Benitez, who named Peter Crouch at the head of his attack, saw the 6ft 7in striker win every aerial battle he contested, yet failed to find a team-mate with any of his flick-ons.
The chronic lack of support allowed Rio Ferdinand and company to clear any danger with some degree of comfort and although Steven Gerrard nearly burst clear a couple of times and John Arne Riise screwed a shot just wide, it took the home side 40 minutes to have their first effort on target, which Edwin van der Sar saved from Florent Sinama-Pongolle.
Not that United were any better. Rooney kept his temper in check, but his magical talents largely remained under wraps too.
There was one offering of genius, a deft flick which looked like it would release Ruud van Nistelrooy until Jamie Carragher robbed the Dutchman with a fine sliding tackle.
Van Nistelrooy did not really test Jose Reina with an early free-kick, but it was not until stoppage time that his best opportunity arrived when Rio Ferdinand burst forward and played a neat pass through to the striker.
With an instant to determine the best course of action before Carragher closed him down, Van Nistelrooy opted for a deft chip which sailed over Reina but landed on the roof of his net.
United set out with greater intent after the interval, yet it was Liverpool who might have gone in front when John O'Shea gifted possession to Steven Gerrard.
The Liverpool captain intelligently continued his run after feeding Riise and when the cross came to the near post, he rose well but could not keep his header on target.
It was the first of three successive opportunities for the hosts and Gerrard had the next one too, a thunderous 25-yard shot which Van der Sar could only beat away.
Unsurprisingly, Gerrard was the instigator of the third too, feeding Luis Garcia to his left, only for the Spaniard to drill an angled effort well wide of the far post.
Although it did not bring Liverpool a goal, the trio of failed efforts at least represented goalmouth action, not something that was occurring very often at the other end as Van Nistelrooy, starved of meaningful support toiled for no reward.
Garcia glanced a header wide, with Gerrard again the provider as Liverpool tried to force a winner.
But not even the introduction of Djibril Cisse for Crouch near the end could manage that.
Sir Alex Ferguson waited 88 minutes to make a change of his own but by then, the rot had well and truly set in.
Liverpool J Reina, S Finnan, J Carragher, S Hyypia, S Warnock (84 D Traore) , S Luis Garcia, S Gerrard, X Alonso, J Riise, P Crouch (79 D Cisse) , F Sinama Pongolle (71 M Sissoko)
Man Utd E Van der Sar, J O'Shea, R Ferdinand, M Silvestre, K Richardson, A Smith, P Scholes, R Keane (88 R Giggs) , C Ronaldo (90 J Park) , W Rooney (88 D Fletcher) , R van Nistelrooy
Ref: R Styles
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|Match Report filed: 18 September 2005|