Liverpool and Manchester United could only play out a goalless draw at Anfield as a game billed as a title race marker failed to find a finish.
Five days after knocking the champions off their Premier League perch with victory at Burnley, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side were hoping to further assert heavyweight title credentials at the home of their fiercest foes.
In this truer test, the hosts' long unbeaten league run on Merseyside never looked under real threat until late on, when Alisson made two vital saves to deny Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba from close range.
Liverpool, in Jurgen Klopp's 200th Premier League game, found the breakthrough elusive themselves as they dominated the ball for long spells but struggled for attacking fluidity, failing to score for a third Premier League game in a row.
Manchester United stay three points clear of Liverpool, whom they meet again in the FA Cup on next Sunday, at the top of the table, with Leicester - a point above the Reds - between them.
But this was a result to offer real encouragement to Manchester City - who will close the gap at the top to just two points if they beat Crystal Palace later on Sunday - as well as to Tottenham and Brendan Rodgers' team.
Liverpool: Alisson (8), Alexander-Arnold (6), Henderson (7), Fabinho (8), Robertson (6), Thiago (7), Wijnaldum (6), Shaqiri (6), Salah (5), Firmino (4), Mane (6).
Subs used: Milner (N/A), Jones (6), Origi (N/A).
Man Utd: De Gea (6), Wan Bissaka (6), Lindelof (7), Maguire (7), Shaw (8), Fred (6), McTominay (6), Rashford (5), Fernandes (3), Pogba (6), Martial (4).
Subs used: Cavani (5).
Man of the match: Alisson
- Liverpool 0-0 Man Utd player ratings: Fernandes, Firmino flop
- How the teams lined up | Match stats
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Hotly-anticipated showdown - but no goals
Ahead of a tantalising contest between two northern powerhouses unusually locked in a title race, Anfield's anthem echoed poignantly around an empty stadium, its late hitmaker Gerry Marsden remembered before kick-off.
Gary Neville had expected Liverpool to "come out like animals" after the sting of defeat to Southampton but their play was quietly controlled in a cagey start, Andy Robertson on the end of two patient moves but twice off target.
United had offered an early glimpse of their counter-attacking threat down the left but the game's midfield pattern soon became clear, Fred and Scott McTominay prised apart as Thiago probed.
- Liverpool deployed Jordan Henderson at centre-back, with Joel Matip not fit. Xherdan Shaqiri making his first Premier League start in 13 months at the expense of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
- Man Utd boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer brought Scott McTominay and Fred into midfield, and started Victor Lindelof over Eric Bailly in defence. Anthony Martial was passed fit after a hamstring complaint.
Roberto Firmino cut inside ominously, only to be thwarted by Victor Lindelof, while Harry Maguire put his body in the way of shots from Xherdan Shaqiri and Gini Wijnaldum with Liverpool further encouraged and well in command yet still to have a shot on target as the half-hour mark came.
Fernandes pulled his shirt over his head in frustration as a free-kick curled just wide of Alisson's post and though Firmino spurned another opportunity after Mohamed Salah broke clear, United sensed a foothold as more Liverpool attacks came and went without reward.
Jamie Carragher called for "more quality" from Liverpool's frontline but a laboured feel remained as players for so long so potent took an extra touch, an unnecessary pass. One delivery of real menace from Robertson just before the hour was cut out by Maguire and then Salah dithered in the box before firing wide.
A fine Fabinho block had denied Fernandes not long before but Solskjaer was emboldened enough by the scoreline to send on Edinson Cavani, a smash-and-grab scent in the air.
Thiago forced a stop from David de Gea late on as Liverpool's intent only flickered but Alisson's late work was more significant, the Brazilian denying Fernandes and then Paul Pogba's half-volley from close range as the Frenchman punched the turf.
It was a strong finish from Solskjaer's side in a game that will have disappointed the protagonists but cheered their rivals as the title race picture continues to look a compelling one.
What the managers said
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp: "If we won 1-0 I'd think it was completely fine. You can't deny Manchester United chances for 90 minutes. You never could. They're in a good moment. With all the things said before the game - they're flying and we're struggling - my boys did a good game.
"First half the counter-press was great, passing was good. But we didn't score. That's the most important thing in football. The second half was a bit more open. They had two big chances - Alisson made two good saves.
"There is no easy explanation [for their recent lack of goals]. You always miss chances. You have to keep going and try to ignore the talk around it. Everyone wants to see goals. You cannot force it. These moments happen. I saw a lot of really good individual performances and the team performance was good. Not the result we wanted, but the result we got."
Man Utd boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: "I've got to be honest and say I'm disappointed at the moment. With the injuries they have had lately, you want to come here and get a result. We didn't, but a point might be OK if we win the next one
"We didn't deserve the three points because we didn't play well enough. We didn't impose ourselves on the game, especially first half. We grew in the game and thought it was there to win in the second half and created two massive chances.
"We can play better than this, we know that. We can be more composed; we can have the ball more. We had to defend really often, and we gave the ball away too often. A couple of things we need to improve on."
'Encouragement for Liverpool's rivals'
Sky Sports' Graeme Souness:
"Liverpool weren't at their best.
"We could talk all night about what Liverpool are not at this moment in time, but where they are is in the top four, not at their best, and that will be a source of encouragement for a lot of people."
'Can Man Utd win it? This is progress at least...'
Sky Sports' Roy Keane:
"It was a big test for United. They were sloppy for a while but overall, the draw, the clean sheet, the better chances - I think Ole should be ok with this.
"For us to discuss Man Utd being top of the table at this stage is progress. The hard part is winning these tight games but overall I would be pleased with their performance. Have they got enough to win it? I don't know, I'm changing my mind every few weeks!
"I wouldn't be too critical of United. They showed a good mentality. The back four was brilliant.
"Rashford didn't turn up, Fernandes didn't play well, but they still created the best two chances in the game. If Pogba wants to be the main man, he has to take that chance."
Match stats - Goal-shy Liverpool
- Liverpool have failed to score in any of their last three Premier League matches, their longest run since another three-match spell in March 2005.
- Liverpool and Manchester United have drawn nil-nil at Anfield in the league three times in the last five seasons, as many times as in the previous 48 top-flight campaigns.
- Manchester United are unbeaten in their last 16 away matches in the Premier League (W12 D4) - only once have they gone longer without a defeat on the road in the competition (17 games ending in September 1999).
- Liverpool are now unbeaten in their last 68 Premier League games at Anfield, earning 178 out of a possible 204 points over this run.
- Manchester United are the first side to stop Liverpool scoring at Anfield in a Premier League match since Manchester City in October 2018 - this was Liverpool's 43rd such game since then.
- Under Jurgen Klopp Liverpool are unbeaten in all seven of their Premier League games at Anfield when facing the side starting the day top of the table (W3 D4).
- Liverpool are the third reigning champions to fail to score in three successive league games, after Arsenal in 1998-99 (three games) and Leicester City in 2016-17 (six games).
- Marcus Rashford was called offside five times in this match, the most of any Premier League player this season and the most by a Man Utd player since Robin van Persie (six) vs Spurs in January 2013.
Live Premier League
Liverpool host Burnley in an 8pm kick-off on Thursday evening, live on Sky Sports Premier League, before going to Manchester United in the FA Cup at 5pm on Sunday.
Before that FA Cup reunion with the Reds, Manchester United travel to Fulham in the Premier League at 8.15pm on Wednesday.