Amid the hype and intensity of this match, Manchester United were the calmer side, passed the ball better and used the width of the field to stretch Liverpool. Once Kenny Dalglish was forced to sacrifice his midfield unit and give Luis Suárez more support after Wayne Rooney's double early in the second half, United took advantage. Ryan Giggs drifted to the touchline, after previously foraging in narrow positions to help Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick counter Liverpool's 4-5-1 formation.
Aware of the influence Rooney had when he dropped short to collect and receive passes against Chelsea last week, Dalglish instructed Jay Spearing to shackle him but in doing so he left Suárez without a partner until too late, perhaps hoping that Stewart Downing would create chances from the left and that Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson would find the energy and space to break forward from midfield and support the Uruguayan. However, Downing was anonymous.
United were the crisper passers in the first half , with Scholes on one occasion rolling back the years by ghosting into the area and directing a header on goal that forced a save out of Pepe Reina. Liverpool threatened only briefly, using the space afforded to them by Giggs moving inside and leaving the touchline, where Glen Johnson was allowed to move forward on to Gerrard's excellent early supply. However, it was Johnson's sluggish defensive work at a corner just after half-time that allowed Rooney to open the scoring, before Spearing was caught in possession by Antonio Valencia, who set up Rooney's second.
Liverpool needed a quick response. Goals change games and plans need adjusting immediately, but Dalglish waited 15 minutes before altering Liverpool's shape, withdrawing Spearing and Downing. In that time, they did not manage a single effort on goal. Instead United made Liverpool chase, stretching the game and dragging the visitors' full-backs out of position.
With Liverpool opening up, Rooney became increasingly prominent. The introduction of Andy Carroll and Craig Bellamy meant Liverpool moved to a 4-4-2 formation, but that gave Giggs the opportunity to move wide, which suited United more than it did Liverpool. Scholes and Carrick now had targets in wide positions and in front of them. On the right, Valencia pulled José Enrique tight, before laying the ball off and racing beyond the left-back, who was constantly troubled by the right-winger.
By the time Charlie Adam entered the field after 75 minutes, Liverpool had not tested David de Gea once. United were cruising when Suárez took advantage of a defensive mix-up to luckily score. Only then did Liverpool show any attacking aggression and cause problems for United, which made their earlier efforts so disappointing.
There is no doubt that the signings of Adam, Henderson, Downing and Carroll have caused selection difficulties for Dalglish. Out of the four, only Adam has prospered. United dominated possession in their FA Cup defeat at Anfield two weeks ago, but they lost the game on the counterattack. There was no risk of that happening on Saturday. It says much for how comfortable United were that the two veterans, Giggs and Scholes, maintained their high standards in a heated atmosphere for the full 90 minutes.