Dirk Kuyt's hat-trick and Luis Suárez's trickery gave Liverpool a memorable win
Afternoon all! How've you been keeping? Good, good. Me? Can't complain, thanks for asking.
This is one of those fixtures where everything is super-sized and comes with a litre and a half of Fanta – given the result at the Emirates it's an Andre-the-Giant of fixture for Manchester United in the context of the title race. A victory would be a huge step towards that 19th championship – anything else eases the self-imposed pressure piled on Arsenal following their draw against Sunderland.
And if what we have seen so far this season is anything to go by, it should be an intriguing affair. The two games at Old Trafford have produced one stunning hat-trick courtesy of Dimitar Berbatov and a fiery, if a little stodgy contest, that saw Kenny Dalglish's return and the visitors knocked out of the FA Cup.
United have issues at the back, where Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand are both absent – the well-worn stat is that the league leaders concede twice as many goals without just one of them absent. It's the first time this season that both will be out. Liverpool remain inconsistent – the chest-beating take-that-Torres victory over Chelsea has been followed by a home draw with Wigan and something of a spanking at West Ham. Andy Carroll is expected to figure on the bench, while with Martin Kelly out and Fabio Aurelio and Dan Agger doubts, the home sides could also be short-handed at the back.
The teams are in:
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Gerrard, Lucas, Kuyt, Meireles, Maxi, Suarez. Subs: Gulacsi, Carroll, Cole, Kyrgiakos, Ngog, Spearing, Poulsen.
Manchester United: Van der Sar, Rafael, Smalling, Brown, Evra, Nani, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs, Berbatov, Rooney. Subs: Kuszczak, Hernandez, Fabio, O'Shea, Fletcher, Obertan, Gibson.
So, as expected, Brown and Smalling stand in for Ferdinand and Vidic. Agger hasn't made it for Liverpool, so Dalglish looks to have reverted to a back four. Carroll takes his place on the bench.
Pointless stats dept.
• United have won eight of their last nine league games following a defeat
• So far this campaign, Liverpool are unbeaten at home against teams in the top half of the table
• Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur have all taken more points from away matches in the Premier League than Manchester United
• Only one of the last 21 meetings between these sides has ended as a draw
Funny how the story unfolds. The last time these sides met it was all about Dalglish and Liverpool. Now it's very much about Manchester United. Even the most optimistic of Kopites should by now have given up any final far-fetched hope of a top four finish. Their role today is that of spoilers. And there's nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, it's a fun place to be.
Honestly, Sky's pre-match montages just get more and more WWE. All you need is Kid Rock spitting out some nonsense and the two would be indistinguishable.
Pre-match email dept.
"Big build up for this fixture with all sorts of delving into the past relationships of the respective managers and much attention being placed on how loosey-goosey Dalglish is now the the media compared to how even more uptight Lord Ferg has become in the last few days," writes Neil Macknish. "If ever there was a rubber band that looked like snapping soon..."
"I have a weird feeling somebody's going to get a 4-0 shellacking today," begins Nick Pettigrew. "But for the life of me I can't say which side."
"You say Liverpool are short-handed at the back," writes Robin Hazlehurst. "Can't they just play Suarez there if they need an extra mitt or two in defence?" Arf.
"Wait a minute," yelps Luke Stevenson. "This historical montage .. .does this mean ... Sky DIDN'T invent football in the 90s? My life has been a lie..."
Here's Kenny! "We want three points for us [not just to hamper United's bid for title No19]." "Carroll's there if needed. He's not on the bench just to be an ornament. If we need him, he's an option."
Click-clack, click-clack … the teams emerge from the tunnel into an Anfield bathed in Sunday lunchtime sunshine.
ADVERTS, ADVERTS, ADVERTS … Gamble! Drink flavourless Australian lager! Eat chocolate eggs containing mysterious white substance! Buy a new razor! GAMBLE MORE! Buy a car!
Peep! United, all in white, get us underway. "I have always had the feeling that the Premier league could be improved by some WWE style theatrics," writes Mark Eisner. "How about guest referee Jose Mourhino? Or Vidic hobbling Suarez in the carpark before the game?" This sort of thing might be fun:
1 min: Suarez takes an early tumble to give Liverpool a free-kick in the middle of the United half, a set piece they work clumsily back to Reina, who clears poorly.
2 min: CHANCE! And not a bad one either. Meireles gets free down the right - his driven cross finds Suarez clear in front of goal but the ball hits him rather than the other way round. Van der Sar collects.
3 min: Liverpool have made a very sprightly start here, and another couple of dangerous balls get swung into the box. United, scrambling a touch, smuggle it clear.
5 min: Some lovely triangles from the home side, prompted by Meireles, gives Maxi a shooting chance, but he drags his shot well wide.
6 min: Berbatov flicks a backheel to Nani, whose touch is poorer than a church mouse.
7 min: " After the Guardian's heroic refusal to join the 'Down With This Sort of Thing!' handwringing bandwagon after the Old Firm game, is anyone else secretly hoping for a Fergie v Kenny square go?" writes Ryan Dunne. "My money would be on Lord Ferg, despite his greater age. Apparently he was famous for vicious elbows in his playing days, whereas Kenny was never exactly Souness." Square go? Suarez, meantime, lumps a wild effort yards off target from 30-odd yards.
9 min: Scholes launches a tremendous 40-yard pass out to Berbatov and despite Carragher's mopping up, Reina's clearance is again a poor one. Liverpool, though, sort themselves out and suffocate the danger.
11 min: United have got a foothold in the game now and are beginning to knock it about with a bit more assuredness.
12 min: "Only in ad land can a complete stranger rush up behind you when you're only wearing a towel while shaving in a bathroom and not end up wrestled to the ground and 'pistol whipped' with a can of shaving foam before he can 'advertise his wares'." notes 'Ulto'. Evra calmly ends Johnson's surge down the right.
13 min: This is a square go. First time I've ever heard the expression. Smalling makes a fine block on Kuyt as Liverpool threaten once more.
14 min: Kuyt slaps a cross against Brown. First corner of the game …
15 min: … whipped in by Gerrard, headed well clear by Brown, and Johnson ends the attack by giving Nani a nudge as the ball breaks loose.
16 min: BERBATOV HITS THE POST! What an effort this is. An innocuous ball forward drops to the Bulgarian 25 yards out and he volleys the thing with the outside of his boot, curling it low onto the outside of Reina's post. That was a strike sweeter than a Belle and Sebastian B-side.
17 min: At the other end, it's Liverpool's turn to go close. Suarez rakes a beautiful ball into the box, the increasingly influential Meireles nods back across goal and Kuyt is inches away from getting on the end of it.
19 min: Pass, pass, pass from United. This has been a pulsing, throbbing sort of opening 20 minutes rather than a pedal-to-the-metal edge-of-the-seat funfest, but it's absorbing stuff, nevertheless.
21 min: Suarez shifts away from two defenders superbly on the right-edge of the area but there's no one in the box to get on the end of his (admittedly overhit) cross. "He's got a lovely picture," opines Glenn Hoddle on the TV.
22 min: United win their first corner, but play is delayed is Aurelio hits the deck cluctching his hamstring. It's looks terminal in terms of today's game, so Kyrgiakos looks set to replace him.
23 min: Yep, that's it for the defender. Kyrgiakos replaces him, which will mean Jamie Carragher shifting to right-back and Johnson switching over to the left. Meantime, Liverpool scramble away United's first corner of the game.
25 min: "Honestly right now I'd take Suarez over Torres in a straight-up swap. Bet you 5-1 he out-scores him over next year," writes hubertohearn on Twitter.
26 min: "The 'lovely picture' I see while watching Suarez play is that of a
caffeinated monkey on a unicycle," writes Linda Howard. "FUN! *Cue circus music*" United again get themselves back on top, Berbatov twice caught offside, the second time dubiously, before shooting waywardly.
28 min: Suarez gives the linesman a piece of his mind after the official fails to give a free-kick close to the corner quadrant after a trip from Evra. Phil Dowd steps in to calm down the Uruguayan.
30 min: The game has gone off the boil a touch in the last 10 minutes. Liverpool have a corner, though …
31 min: … flicked on by Kyrgiakos, Scholes and Lucas clash on the edge of the box to give the home side a very dangerous free-kick …
32 min: … drilled in by Gerrard and deflected wide for another corner …
33 min: … which is again cleared. Liverpool's set pieces have been very average thus far.
GOAL!!! Liverpool 1-0 Manchester Utd (Kuyt 34) Kuyt scores it, but what a stunning piece of work from Suarez. The Uruguayan shimmies and pops past four – four – United defenders inside the box, pokes the ball past Van der Sar and Kuyt finishes the job from 0.0000001cm out.
35 min: Much more of that sort of thing from Suarez and people will start to forgive him for being a World Cup-wrecking über-villain who bites people.
36 min:Liverpool are continuing to press here, forcing yet another corner. Lucas is even surging into the box to put defenders under pressure. United can't match the home side's intensity at the moment.
GOAL!!! Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United (Kuyt 39) And the PFA Award for Worst Defensive Header of the Season goes to … Nani. A deep cross drifts to the Portuguese winger and he dinks it straight back into the six yard box where Kuyt has another simple task of nodding home. Think it was an attempted clearance that skewed horribly rather than an attempted backpass. It was so hideously mistimed it's hard to tell.
41 min: "Everything I do has the potential to be very important," said Nani this week. He wasn't wrong.
43 min: Rafael pokes a ball through, but Rooney had checked his run. Not surprisingly, the visitors are looking a little shell-shocked.
44 min: "I fully expect Fergie to put Rooney on for the second half," writes Mark Jud. Saying he's been anonymous is to denigrate anonymity.
45 min: Here we go! Handbags ahoy! Carragher catches Nani with an awful tackle, and everyone piles in. Nani gets up then flops down at best theatrically, at worst disgracefully, and Van der Sar talks his way into the book.
45+2 min: Nani clutches his head as he is stretchered off the field.
45+4 min: More handbags! This is like a Louis Vuitton warehouse clearance! Rafael goes flying in on Lucas – he's off the ground, it's two-footed, although Lucas had leapt well clear – and Liverpool take exception. More pushing and shoving ends up with the little Brazilian full-back in Phil Dowd's Big Book of Naughty Boys, along with Skrtel.
Peep! Peep! A breathless end to the half then. Tempers getting seriously frayed. Nani is clearly in a pretty bad way, as Hernandez is on to replace him.
Is it me or is Rafael building up a bit of a history with these sorts of challenges? And that he gets away with it because he looks like Peter Barlow's little lad in Corrie? If he looked like, say, Phil Mitchell he'd have been sent off there.
Two sides to every story email dept.
"Dowd loves showing red cards why didn't Carragher get one?" wonders Eddie Munro. "Was he not far enough off the ground? Or was it cos he only fractured Nani's leg instead of breaking it?"
"Nani in a seriously bad way?" writes Andrew Wiese. "Scared of the hair-dryer, perhaps. He was pathetic, and I'd be surprised if he didn't decide to fake it a little longer to avoid facing the music, at least for a while."
Just seen a replay of the challenge properly for the first time. Carragher should be in the bath now. Along with Rafael.
Not in the same bath, obviously. Ought to make that clear.
Phil Dowd's reaction to the final scuffle of the first half was an interesting one. He stood, arms folded, 10 yards away with a "I'll-Sort-This-Out-When-I'm-Good-And-Ready" look on his face. Dealt with the handbags rather well. Dealt with the tackles rather less well.
Peep! Liverpool get the second half underway. Will half time have drawn the heat out of this? Let's see, shall we?
46 min: I didn't see this but I've had a couple of emails on it: "During the inevitable mountain of moralising set to follow this match, can the footage of Nani apparently lashing out at the St John's Ambulance staff be taken into consideration?" writes Nick Pettigrew. Can anyone clarify?
47 min: Smalling rumbles out of defence, but his pass is poor. Rooney whips in a cross, Reina pouches.
48 min: Gerrard gets half a sight of goal but thumps his strike against a defender. At the other end, Hernandez almost turns Berbatov's cross goalwards.
50 min: "We shouldn't be too hard on Dowd," writes Rob Marriott. "After all, isn't consistency the one thing we really ask of referees? And Down got it wrong, twice, equally, one for each side. What's more consistent than that?"
51 min: Rooney isn't a million miles away from having a 'mare here. Another pass into the box trundles sadly through to Reina. He's shifted out to the left to allow Chicharito to run through the middle, but has had zero impact thus far.
52 min: "Nani didn't lash out at anyone, he punched the floor in pain/anger," notes Alex Khadivi among others. Kuyt trips ever out on the left, 40 yards from goal …
53 min: … which is worked across to Giggs before Liverpool charge away on the break. Meireles's ball in to Kuyt is too heavy, though.
54 min: Superb effort from Giggs as Rooney fizzes a ball across the edge of the area and the veteran spanks a half-volley over the bar.
55 min: United are dominating possession now, and they've been in a few useful positions with it. Not exactly hot knives through butter, but Liverpool not looking entirely watertight.
56 min: Berbatov goes down the right, Giggs steps over his pass and Rooney dilly-dallies a second too long to allow defenders back to block his shot. United have markedly improved since the break.
58 min: OFF THE LINE!! A United corner causes panic in the box, Berbatov ends up prodding a header at goal from a yard or so out but plants it straight at Meireles's chest.
60 min: After that near-miss, Liverpool failed to clear and Giggs had the chance to test Reina with a free-kick right on the edge of the D. He failed to do so, sweeping the set-piece over the bar.
61 min: Fine save from Van der Sar as Meireles breaks beyond the United backline once again. His shot across goal might have been sneaking in at the far post, but the keeper, the oldest player in this fixture for 90 years apparently, got a firm hand to it.
63 min: Kuyt's turn to take a tumble as Brown blocks his run. Dangerous free-kick …
GOAL!!! Dirk Kuyt 3-0 Manchester United (Kuyt 65) … Suarez whips the free-kick at goal, Van der Sar saves but spills, Kuyt is yards ahead of anyone else and scoops the ball delightedly into the roof of the net.
65 min: Total yardage for Kuyt's hat-trick? Five yards, maybe?
66 min: It's the first hat-trick in this fixture at Anfield since Peter Beardsley in 1990 (thanks to @Infostradalive on Twitter). And it means a fully deserved three-goal lead for Liverpool. They don't look like they're finished either. United hanging on a bit now.
68 min: "Nick Pettigrew (pre-amble) is looking more and more prophetic," writes Duncan Smith. Indeed he is.
70 min: Carrick whips a cross in and Hernandez is a foot or so away from kung-fuing is way onto it at shoulder height. "I'm at the cinema!" wails Anthony O Connell. "Jesus what a day to bring your three year old to see Gnomeo and Juliet." You're breaking the code of conduct, man. Put your phone away.
72 min: Here comes Andy Carroll, the exceptional Raul Meireles makes way for the former Newcastle man. His first touch is a header towards goal, caught calmly by Van der Sar.
74 min: Rooney tumbles on the edge of the area to give United a dangerous free-kick. Meanwhile, off goes Rafael, on comes O'Shea.
75 min: Rooney, having One of Those Days, chips the free-kick apologetically into the wall.
76 min: Giggs whumps another free-kick over the bar. Giggs, Rooney, Carrick, Scholes … they've all been passengers really. In fact, Liverpool have looked the championship-chasers, United the stale side struggling to keep pace.
78 min: Carroll nods a cross back to Kuyt who hoofs the thing into the Mersey sky.
80 min: 10 minutes to go, and the game has plunged into a lull. "I must admit to being very impressed by the dribble from Suarez for that first goal," begins Brendan Large, "but even more impressively when he was standing in the wall to face the Rooney free-kick he had his arms together BEHIND HIS BACK. Now that's a real man."
82 min: "Interesting 3-0 and Gerrard really not vital to the lead - torch passing?" notes BTBReviews on Twitter. Scholes goes into the book for what I'm assuming was a clumsy tackle. Then he heads into the dugout, Fletcher comes on.
83 min: Suarez almost picks out the run of Maxi with a lovely little chip, and as the ball breaks Gerrard hammers a shot a whisper wide of Van der Sar's right post.
85 min: Suarez – who has been a joy to watch today – does Evra and then Brown down the left before welly-wanging his shot well wide.
87 min: Reina palms away Rooney's effort, but United know the game is up.
88 min: Suarez gets a standing ovation from Anfield as he is replaced by Joe Cole. A very, very promising day for the Uruguayan.
89 min: Gerrard curls another effort narrowly wide as Liverpool look to add salt to the wounds.
90 min: Three added minutes to go.
GOAL!!! Liverpool 3-1 Manchester United (Hernandez 90) Giggs chips a cross in, Hernandez has earned himself a yard of space and plants a lovely little header past Reina. Perhaps the quietest away-terrace response to a Manchester United goal at Anfield you're ever likely to hear. Or not hear.
Peep! Peep! Peeeeeeep!!! There's no nerve-shredding finale for Liverpool. A morale-boosting result for Dalglish's side, a real confidence-battering week for Manchester United.
Right, that's it from me. Thanks for all your emails, as ever. Be sure to stick around on site for more blogs, reports and reaction than you could shake a particularly big stick at. Cheerio!