Zlatan Ibrahimovic delivered his most important goal yet for Manchester United as he sent Old Trafford wild with his 19th of the season in all competitions to salvage a 1-1 draw with their fiercest rivals Liverpool on Sunday.
James Milner, so often a scourge of United, had silenced the home crowd with a 27th minute penalty as Liverpool seemed to be coasting with relative comfort to a crucial Premier League win until the irrepressible Swede struck with an 84th minute header.
The draw put Liverpool into third spot, alongside second-placed Tottenham on 45 points, but left Chelsea seven points ahead of the pack after 21 games, while United, who saw the end of their nine-match winning streak, remain sixth with 40 points.
It had looked as if it might be a miserable afternoon for the world’s most expensive player, Frenchman Paul Pogba, who gave away the penalty with a clumsy handball, missed a golden opportunity to score and looked lost on defensive duty.
Mourinho brought on captain Wayne Rooney as a second half substitute, hoping he would break the club’s scoring record but Liverpool, for whom Simon Mignolet made key saves, held United comfortably until Ibrahimovic’s decisive late intervention.
Ibrahimovic, who scored his 11th league goal in as many matches, had to twist backwards to get power on a header from an Antonio Valencia cross to earn what he felt was a crucial point.
“We would like to win every game, of course, to close the gap even more but 1-1, we continue like this, we haven’t lost a game in 15 or 16 and we are there,” Ibrahimovic told Sky Sports.
“They stopped our run in terms of consecutive victories but they didn’t stop our run of being unbeaten for a long time,” added Mourinho. “That’s what we had to do.”
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp, though, felt his men had deserved the three points. “But we’ll take the one,” he added.
Mourinho, who was glad to see United’s fans obey his demand that they pump up the volume for the visit of their fiercest rivals, decided to keep Rooney, just one goal away from breaking Bobby Charlton’s club record of 249, on the bench.
Klopp, who left playmaker Philippe Coutinho among his substitutes, risked a full league debut for 18-year-old fullback Trent Alexander-Arnold, in place of the injured Nathaniel Clyne.
United came close early on with Ibrahimovic almost cashing in on a poor backpass from Dejan Lovren aimed towards Mignolet before Pogba screwed a glorious chance wide when freed by Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Pogba, challenging Lovren in the box, was penalised for handling Milner’s corner, not the first time the world’s most expensive player was exposed in defence.
“Lovren is good in the air and Paul had difficulties with him,” Mourinho conceded.
From the spot, Milner made no mistake, scoring against United for a fourth different club after previously being their scourge at Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Manchester City.
The usual Premier League rule of thumb is that when Milner scores, his teams do not lose but not this time.
Liverpool found themselves on the back foot with Mignolet saving brilliantly from a thunderous Ibrahimovic free kick and when one-on-one with Mkhitaryan.
Rooney was introduced for his 450th league match and United poured forward with Mkhitaryan hammering one shot wide, but when the magician Coutinho, back after injury, was introduced for the last half-hour, Liverpool looked a different proposition.
With a lovely touch, the Brazilian put in Roberto Firmino, who produced a fine save from David De Gea, and he was also instrumental in creating another opportunity for Adam Lallana.
Yet just when Liverpool were ready to celebrate going back into second place in the table, Ibrahimovic scored his 14th Premier League goal in his first 20 matches.
Substitute Marouane Fellaini had hit the post with a header but when the ball was recycled by Valencia, Ibrahimovic produced the finish of a world-beater to secure a valuable point.