Liverpool 3-1 Man Utd
Dirk Kuyt helped himself to the first hat-trick of his Liverpool career as Manchester United fell apart in a 3-1 defeat at the home of their bitter rivals.
The hard-working forward benefited from a sublime piece of skill from the superb Luis Suarez to open the scoring in the 34th minute before two defensive blunders saw the Red Devils suffer back-to-back defeats in the Premier League.
An enthralling encounter between the two teams who have each won the title on 18 occasions threatened to boil over before the interval with Jamie Carragher lucky to stay on the field after an ugly lunge on Nani, who had inadvertently set up Kuyt's second with a woeful header.
The United winger attempted to get to his feet to show referee Phil Dowd the wound before collapsing back to the turf and being stretchered off, while Maxi's lunge on Rafael went unpunished and the young full-back saw yellow for his two-footed tackle on Lucas in a manic few moments.
Any hopes United had of clawing their way back into the contest were extinguished in the 65th minute when their defensive wall parted obligingly for Suarez's free-kick and Edwin van der Sar's parry fell to Kuyt, who was the only player following up.
Kenny Dalglish was able to introduce £35million signing Andy Carroll in the 74th minute for his debut and the former Newcastlestriker immediately demonstrated what he will bring to the side with his aerial prowess, while Javier Hernandez headed home a consolation in added time.
For United their second-choice central defensive partnership of Wes Brown and Chris Smalling, deputising for the suspended Nemanja Vidic and injured Rio Ferdinand, never looked comfortable on an afternoon when very few of the visiting team reached anywhere near the exacting standards Sir Alex Ferguson demands.
They still remain top of the table, and it is difficult to bet against them being in that position come May, but two defeats in six days - having lost at Chelsea in midweek - leave plenty of questions to be answered.
While Carroll had claimed all the adulation prior to kick-off, when the action got going it was his fellow January arrival Suarez who had an effect where it mattered most.
The Uruguay international, a £22.7million transfer from Ajax, had one early effort prodded at Van der Sar but that was merely a precursor to a piece of brilliance to set up the opener.
When he collected the ball on the left of the penalty area his route to goal was blocked by a number of opponents but his quick feet saw him weave past Rafael, Michael Carrick and Wes Brown on his way to the byline.
From there he squared the ball through Van der Sar's legs to present Kuyt with a tap-in from just inches.
Suarez could claim to have had a hand in the next one too - but the main credit had to go to Nani, who had a defensive aberration.
The Portugal international inexplicably headed the Uruguayan's cross back into his own six-yard area where Kuyt gleefully nodded in.
Liverpool's lead was fully deserved but it had been United who had come closest to scoring prior to Kuyt's 34th-minute strike.
Dimitar Berbatov, scorer of a match-winning hat-trick in their Old Trafford league encounter, volleyed Wayne Rooney's knockdown against the outside of Pepe Reina's right-hand post.
The rivalry between the teams, England's dominant pairing over the last four decades, was evident in the closing stages of the first half.
Carragher, switched to right-back after Fabio Aurelio went off injured, was lucky to escape with just a booking after a reckless tackle on Nani just below the knee.
The Portugal winger, already at fault for the second goal, collapsed to the floor and burst into tears when Steven Gerrard placed a hand on his shoulder.
After the ensuing melee Nani departed on a stretcher, replaced by Hernandez, and Van der Sar was cautioned.
Rafael also benefited from referee Dowd's leniency after a high challenge on Lucas Leiva earned him, and Martin Skrtel for his retaliation, a booking, while Maxi's lunge went unpunished.
The second half began with United, not unexpectedly, having their best spell and for 20 minutes it appeared a goal was imminent.
Ryan Giggs, breaking Sir Bobby Charlton's record of 606 league appearances, met Rooney's cross with a first-time shot which whistled just over the crossbar to serve as a warning that the game was far from finished.
Meireles had to clear off the line for the second time in the match to prevent Berbatov's close-range header going in while Giggs curled an 18-yard free-kick over.
More gaps were appearing in the visitors' defence, though, and when Kuyt put Meireles clean through Van der Sar came to the rescue by palming his angled shot away.
The Dutchman was at fault in the 65th minute, however, when he spilled Suarez's free-kick and his compatriot knocked in the rebound.
Carroll's long-awaited debut arrived in the 74th minute when he replaced Meireles to a rapturous reception and his first touch was a goalbound header.
Kuyt's supreme confidence saw him attempt a 25-yard volley which screamed wide while Gerrard twice hit low shots either side of each post.
Hernandez scored a late headed consolation from Giggs' cross in added time but it hardly raised a cheer among the visiting fans, although United remain top of the pile, but only three points clear of Arsenal having now played a game more.
Latest Forum Comments
Last 7 games vs. Liverpool: 3 wins and 4 defeats. Every time we've won, Fletcher has started; every time we've lost he hasn't- birchy
Fletcher and O'Shea should have started, Ferguson got it wrong. Rooney has looked better recently but I think we should start with Hernandez and Berbatov.- Shaun
Thought Fletcher being on the bench at the start was a mistake. We really needed him to help shield our defense given that it was our 2nd string one. Though I heard somewhere, I think on Twitter, that he didn't start the game due to illness...- Abner
Individually we might not have been that bad, but setup in a 4-4-2 was a huge mistake. We were too open, too attacking and left a weakened backline exposed. Scholes in a midfield two, with Smalling and Wes at the back was a terrible error of judement by SAF. However, it was a one off, against a team that played as if their season rested on it, and i dont expect it to influence the rest of our season. Two weeks until our next league game and its important we try and get Rio, Vidic, Nani, Park and Valencia back for the run-in and we put a good run together and clinch number 19. Quick note on the Carragher challenge. It was every bit as bad as what Rooney did last weekend, and if Nani escapes without serious injury he's a very lucky boy. It'll be interesting to see if the press go into overdrive like they did last week with Rooney.- twoc2002
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