The excellence of Luis Suárez and Dirk Kuyt proved too much for a United defence missing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic
Regardless of the many debates the game generated, one cannot disguise the excellence of Liverpool's perfect birthday present for Kenny Dalglish. From back to front they were superior, more effective in their work with the ball and also showed great determination without it when they hunted United when they lost possession.
Their forward movement, revolving around the workaholic Dirk Kuyt, was most impressive. They ran enterprisingly, taking advantage of the space between the United centre-backs and their full backs. Raul Meireles and Maxi Rodríguez were important to this penetration, with Luis Suárez pulling the centre-backs around with his twisting brilliance, instigating the rhythm of Liverpool's attacks. At times it was compelling stuff, reducing United, a technically better equipped group, to clear second best. The less-heralded players were on top form – Sotirios Kyrgiakos dominated in the air, Lucas balanced Steven Gerrard and Meireles and Maxi ran with great freedom.
The indefatigable Kuyt was central to everything Even Andy Carroll, in a brief cameo, made his point. United, shorn of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, compensated with experience in the midfield selection of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, and with Berbatov up front.
Suárez, playing off the Dutchman, was influential in Liverpool's vibrant speedy movements, where Steven Gerrard and Lucas protected the back four cautiously so that United received little good ball up front. Liverpool's defensive shape, though disturbed when Fabio Aurelio went off, was not handicapped, although Phil Dowd was far too lenient when Jamie Carragher assaulted Nani and this lit the touch paper – Rafael, too, should have seen red.
Maxi and Meireles, switching, swapping and running behind, gave United's back four problems and, with Kuyt and Suárez pulling the centre-backs from their base positions, spaces developed behind the adventurous Patrice Evra and from time to time Rafael.
Meireles made some cleverly timed runs behind his marker and into the grass behind the full-back. It was a tactic that Liverpool used very well. Had Vidic and Ferdinand been together, their experience might have put a doubt into these forward runs, occasionally looking to win an offside decision. But United's communication and understanding was not at its best level.
Chris Smalling and Wes Brown did not have an easy afternoon but it was the overall tightness of the back players which was questionable when Meireles, particularly, and Maxi dragged their midfield markers into deep defensive areas. On this particular day even Vidic and Ferdinand would have been hard-pressed to stem this Liverpool flurry, which augurs well for the future.
In the second half Wayne Rooney faced Carragher on United's wide left. Both players had been happier in the centre than on the touchline, although Rooney did nothing to enhance his reputation in the first period. With Liverpool deeper, but breaking smartly, United held sway for a while, but Kyrgiakos came into his own, heading away comfortably. Kuyt's work rate deserved his poacher's goal as Liverpool continually raced into areas behind Manchester United's back four into the space between the centre-backs and the touchline.
When Carroll arrived to show his headwork for the tiring Meireles, the points were in the bag. United were reduced to chasing the confidence that oozed from the home ranks and stemmed from their great work rate and running ball.