Liverpool salvage a draw against Man Utd on a confusing evening at Old Trafford
Liverpool preserved their unbeaten record thanks to a late Adam Lallana equaliser at Old Trafford on Sunday
Before kick-off, it had seemed a formality.
Liverpool would sweep into Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon and dominate proceedings from minute one. Manchester United, irrespective of which of their injury-ravaged squad was fit enough to play this week, would succumb.
That, though - trying and failing to avoid all the obvious cliches - has never been how football works, not in fixtures such as this. By full-time, both sides had cause for optimism and disappointment in equal measure as Adam Lallana's late goal cancelled out Marcus Rashford's first-half opener.
Two weeks on from their dismal showing at Newcastle, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side were better against a Liverpool team who arrived in Manchester with a perfect record from their opening Premier League fixtures. The swagger and panache we have come to expect of Jurgen Klopp's side for much of the last 18 months was badly lacking, particularly in the first half.
Ashley Young and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, widely anticipated to form part of a back five for United, pushed surprisingly high up during the early stages, a move which appeared to unsettle Liverpool's full-backs. Trent Alexander-Arnold - so often effective as an attacking threat - looked uncertain as to whether he should push on or hang back. For most of the half, he was caught somewhere in between.
As has been the way of late, United's superiority yielded little in the way of chances. Andreas Pereira was guilty of surrendering possession in promising positions more than once; Marcus Rashford and Daniel James' tireless running off the ball often went unnoticed by Fred and Scott McTominay.
The breakthrough eventually came from Rashford, sparking a frantic final ten first-half minutes. Liverpool felt they should have had a free-kick for a Victor Lindelof challenge on Divock Origi, but as Martin Atkinson waved away their protests, James blazed away, delivering an inch-perfect delivery for Rashford to steer home the opener. A subsequent VAR check ruled the goal would stand, to the annoyance of Klopp and his players.
Minutes later: another VAR call. Sadio Mane appeared to have equalised after capitalising on Lindelof's weak defending, only for it to emerge he had used his hand before rolling the ball past David De Gea. That decision, too, went in favour of the home side, and United took a lead into the interval.
For most of the second half, there was little sign things would change. Liverpool, as was the case on their last visit to Old Trafford in February, appeared jaded. Had they been facing a more ruthless United side, a second goal for Solskjaer's men would have almost certainly settled the contest.
Klopp responded with changes. On came Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for the ineffective Origi; Lallana replaced Jordan Henderson; then, finally, Gini Wijnaldum made way for Naby Keita. Though there were little in the way of clear cut chances, gradually, a sense that Liverpool were clawing back a semblance of control started to emerge as United sank deeper into their own half.
Liverpool got their break five minutes from time. Andy Robertson's low cross from the left missed its intended targets at the near post but found its way to Lallana, who had drifted in to the edge of the six-yard box undetected. 1-1.
From there, Liverpool's confidence instantly returned as United suddenly looked weary. Had Oxlade-Chamberlain's radar not been slightly off when taking on a shot from outside of the area, they might even have headed back to Merseyside with their flawless league record intact.
That they didn't, though, is to United's credit, particularly for the way in which they stifled the full-backs for most of the game, nullifying their attacking threat. Solskjaer, whose future as manager has been the subject of speculation over the international break, can take encouragement from that, just as Klopp can take solace from the fact his side avoided defeat on a day when their performance might have merited it.
Neither side, though, can really be truly content. Liverpool know all too well after last season that margins for error are extremely fine when in a title race with Manchester City, just as United will know that they came agonisingly close to recording a win which would have transformed the entire mood around the club.
Yes, there were positives, but as the crowds filtered out through the Old Trafford exits after full-time, nobody was entirely happy.