Liverpool strolled to a 3-1 victory over Manchester United thanks to a Dirk Kuyt hat-trick in a game where the Premier League leaders were thoroughly outclassed from start to finish.
The Reds were dangerous from the off with movement and intricate interchanges from their forward players creating space in dangerous areas. Maxi Rodriguez had the first chance of the game but the Argentine dragged his shot wide of Edwin van der Sar’s goal, while at the other end, Dimitar Berbatov struck the post and Meireles cleared a corner off the line as Liverpool’s good start threatened to peter out.
Soon, however, the home side went ahead. In the 34th minute a Steven Gerrard shot was deflected out for a corner which eventually found Luis Suarez, and the Uruguayan forward danced through the United defence, evading three players, before poking the ball past van der Sar. Kuyt made sure Liverpool took the lead by thumping the ball into the back of the net from mere inches.
After the opening goal Liverpool were ascendant and United rattled. The visitors conceded both territory and possession without much struggle and four minutes later Kuyt and Liverpool had a second goal. Nani bizarrely headed back towards his own goal from inside the penalty area, the ball evaded the leap of Michael Carrick and fell to Kuyt, who easily nodded past the stranded van der Sar.
United found themselves two goals down through a piece of individual brilliance from Suarez and an individual error by Nani, but Liverpool were fully deserved their two-goal half-time lead. But the half ended with ignominy, a series of scuffles sparked by an awful Jamie Carragher challenge on Nani that saw the winger stretchered off and the defender fortunate to only be booked. Minutes later another poor tackle by Rodriguez on Rafael incensed the Brazilian and led to him lunging in on his compatriot Lucas, raising the ire of Skrtel and generating yellow cards for both.
The second-half began with United enjoying plenty of possession and pressure but creating little to show for it, Wayne Rooney teed up Ryan Giggs for a half-volley from the edge of the box that flashed over while Meireles again blocked a goal-bound header on the goal line. Liverpool remained dangerous, however, with Meireles drawing a save from van der Sar on the hour mark.
Kuyt soon wrapped the points up for Liverpool with his third goal of the afternoon. Suarez’s free-kick was parried by van der Sar and the striker was the only player to react, leaving a couple of United defenders standing to tap in from two yards and summing up the difference between the sides – Kuyt and Liverpool were eager, United were stagnant throughout, perhaps missing the benched Darren Fletcher, and were contained by the Reds’ defence with ease.
Andy Carroll replaced Meireles with 17 minutes left and showed some encouraging touches in linking up with Kuyt, but the game was over as a contest long before the debutant entered the fray. United added a late consolation through Javier Hernandez but still fell to a second defeat in less than a week as the title race took yet another twist.