MAN UNITED 3, LIVERPOOL 0.
Back-to-form Manchester United recorded their sixth straight Barclays Premier League victory to pile on the troubles for Liverpool.
While Louis van Gaal’s side strengthened its hold on third place, the problems mount for opposite number Brendan Rodgers as Liverpool languish in ninth and seven points shy of the Champions League places.
After last season’s two heavy defeats to Liverpool, there was certainly a marked turnabout in their fortunes this time as goals from Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Robin van Persie gave United victory.
The scoreline was not as decisive as it appeared, though, as United were also indebted to keeper David De Gea who made a string of fabulous saves to keep Liverpool at bay and end the game as man of the match..
That was something endorsed by van Gaal who said: “We have won six out of six which is fantastic, but we have to improve our playing style.
“There has only been the games against QPR and Hull City which we dominated. We could have dominated here for 90 minutes, but didn’t and gave away a lot of unnecessary balls to kill the game more easily so we have to improve.”
Van Gaal was reluctant to single out De Gea for special praise explaining: “I think the team did well and De Gea contributed a big part to it.
“We are a team and winning is not just about one player. I have seen three players who were very good. I said once before he was fantastic, but I want to mention the team rather than individuals.”
He added that he is aware fortune has favoured the team in the winning run.
“You need luck and you can force luck as we did today and which we didn’t have at the start of the season,” he explained.
The Dutchman added he was aware of the importance of the victory.
“I am please as I know what it is to win against Liverpool. My cook is happy as is my wife,” he joked.
Rodgers didn’t feel his side deserved to lose so heavily saying: “We had enough chances to take something from the game.
“There has not been enough goals in the team. We would have expected to have scored two or three, but it was not to be.
“It is not often you come here and create so many chances. We won last year and didn’t create as many chances. David De Gea is a top-class keeper and he made some big saves which looked goals.
“I don’t think we could have done more, If we had not made mistakes, it would have been closer.”
In the absence of the injured Marcos Rojo and Chris Smalling, United were forced to field Phil Jones and Jonny Evans who were both returning after lengthy lay offs as van Gaal went for a back three with Michael Carrick also dropping back into defence
There was also a starting spot for young striker James Wilson as Paddy McNair dropped down to the bench as captain Rooney operated in midfield.
Liverpool had no recognised striker in their starting line up with Raheem Sterling operating up front while Ricky Lambert and Mario Balotelli were both held in reserve on the bench.
There were early chances for Martin Skrtel and Raheem Sterling as Liverpool made the brighter start before United took a 12th minute lead.
Antonio Valencia nutmegged Joe Allen making a lung-busting break down the right before cutting the ball back to Rooney who swept home a low shot from the edge of the penalty area, his sixth goal of the season for United.
United keeper De Gea picked up the club’s player-of-the-month award for November before the game, and he showed why making decent stops to deny Steven Gerrard and Sterling in quick succession as Liverpool looked for a way back into the game.
But it was United who delivered another blow as they doubled their advantage five minutes before the break. Ashley Young sent over a dangerous cross from the left which Robin van Persie flicked on for Mata who stole in unmarked at the far post to nod home from inside the six-yard box, his fifth goal of the season, though replays revealed the Spaniard was offside.
United almost gifted Liverpool a way back into the game early in the second half after a wayward back pass from Evans let in Sterling, but De Gea made a wonderful block to preserve his clean sheet.
De Gea came to United rescue again midway through the half with an equally stunning save to turn Balotelli’s goalbound shot on to the crossbar as United continued to live dangerously.
United then compounded Liverpool’s misery when van Persie added a third goal with 19 minutes left.
Marouane Fellaini split open the Liverpool’s defence and Rooney’s cross cleared by Dejan Lovren to Mata who set up Dutchman van Persie with the simple task of sweeping the ball into an empty net for his seventh goal of the season.
Liverpool kept plugging away and Balotelli must have thought the Gods were conspiring against him as he was denied two more times by De Gea while also crashing a further effort just wide of the upright.
United might have added a fourth goal late on when Liverpool, keeper Brad Jones athletically turned over a shot from Mata.