There can be no domestic honour for Liverpool this season but the recollection of this game will gleam as brightly in the mind of an Anfield supporter as any piece of silverware. There were mitigating factors for Manchester United in the unavailability, through suspension and injury respectively, of the centre-backs Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand but Sir Alex Ferguson would still not have foreseen so humbling a defeat.
While the visitors did take a goal in stoppage time, when the substitute Javier Hernández headed home a Ryan Giggs cross, the home crowd may barely have noticed, let alone cared. There were ugly fouls in this game but the contest as a whole could not be called attritional when Luis Suárez provided such grace for the hosts that he was more compelling still than the scorer of a hat-trick, Dirk Kuyt.
As much as any ingrained pleasure at such an outcome in this fixture Liverpool can find in this result yet more reassurance that there is a lasting eminence to be regained under Kenny Dalglish. The supposed challenge had the air of a rout on occasion. As it is, Ferguson's men have now been defeated for a third consecutive time at this stadium.
That statistic will still be less hurtful than the dismay over a line-up that hardly disturbed the Liverpool back four when the contest was still genuine. Dalglish's defence was sound despite the need to reshape it when Fábio Aurélio was forced off by injury after 24 minutes. The day was so much under the command of Liverpool that the £35m Andy Carroll, whose thigh injury had delayed his debut, could be sent on as a substitute with no need for the striker to take the kind of risk that might incur new harm.
It was a fixture in which everything looked under Liverpool's control. They have employed three centre-backs of late, but the unavailability of Daniel Agger, who also has thigh trouble, coaxed them towards the 4-4-2 formation that served them so well. United have now been beaten in consecutive matches, following the 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge.
Arsenal were unhelpful to themselves in suffering a 0-0 draw at home to Sunderland on Saturday but they are only three points behind the leaders with a game in hand. Arsène Wenger's team also has its home fixture to come against them.
The United camp reacted to the latest defeat at Anfield by declining to comment. They have withdrawn for a little while as the effort to regroup begins. It has always been recognised that the latter phase of the season held menace but Ferguson would have anticipated a bold response to the test of Stamford Bridge or Anfield. None of that matters in the least to Liverpool, whose main purpose was fulfilled as the mood of revival deepened.
This match contained a goal, set up by the Uruguayan Suárez, that was bewitching but it also held the attention with ugly incidents. Phil Dowd might well have sent off Liverpool's Jamie Carragher following a foul that sent Nani out of the game on a stretcher, as well as Rafael da Silva for a two-footed lunge that happened to leave Lucas unscathed. There was also, however, fine play from Liverpool while securing two goals by the 39th minute.
United, including Rafael and Dimitar Berbatov, put a misjudged emphasis on adventure, although the Bulgarian did clip the outside of a post with a shot when the match was goalless. Liverpool were by far the better side and took merited goals, even if Ferguson's men were hapless at the second. It hardly affected the hosts that the back four had to be rejigged in the 24th minute when the injured Aurélio was replaced by Sotirios Kyrgiakos.
Dalglish's side took the lead 10 minutes later. Having won the ball from Steven Gerrard, Berbatov gave away possession. The consequences were devastating because of the exquisite skill that ensued as the ball was switched to the left. Luis Suárez dribbled past Rafael, Michael Carrick and Wes Brown before prodding the ball through the legs of Edwin van der Sar, with Kuyt knocking it home.
The second goal was merely absurd, with Nani leaping to a cross from Suárez and miscuing a header towards his own six-yard line, where the Dutchman nodded home. United tried to recover but Liverpool retained their desire to attack and Kuyt had his third goal after 65 minutes, pouncing for a gleeful finish as Van der Sar spilled a Suárez free-kick.
Dalglish, a realist above all, will not suppose that he has lifted Liverpool to their former eminence, particularly since the 3-1 beating at West Ham is so fresh in the mind. Even so, there may have been enough in this grand Anfield occasion to encourage the owners in the belief that they have a manager worthy of heavy investment in the squad.