It was a sensational victory for Liverpool as forward Dirk Kuyt scored a hat-trick to down bitter-rivals Manchester United 3-1 in a deserved win at Anfield.
Due credit must go to Kuyt for his three goals, but the real hero of the show was Liverpool's January signing Luis Suarez whose nippy, attractive play saw him recieve a standing ovation when he was substituted in the 90th minute, by which time the result was beyond doubt.
Liverpool looked the livelier side and thoroughly deserved their victory. In a week when the spotlight was on the referees, special mention must also be given to Phil Dowd who managed a heated affair very well.
In an Anfield bathed in sunlight, Manchester United got the game under way but it Liverpool was who looked livelier in the opening encounters. They broke forward in numbers and didn't allow United to get into the game. It was a sign of things to come. However, it was United who came closest to a goal when in the 16th minute, Dimitar Berbatov half-volleyed a nothing ball with the outside of his right foot, aiming for the far post. It curled greatly but clipped the outside of the post on it's way out.
Liverpool responded with Suarez who floated a long, diagonal ball from the right into the box for the onrushing Meireles. The Portuguese midfielder headed it across for Kuyt, but it was just out the Dutchman's reach, though he could have opened the scoring had he gone in with his head!
Aurelio was then substituted for Kyrgiakos after experiencing discomfort in his left hamstring. The next notable incident came when Suarez gave the linesman a mouthful after he judged Evra to have played fairly for what the Uruguayan believed was a foul on him. Dowd had to step into to calm him down. However, that seemed to spark something in Suarez and he orchestrated the opener five minutes later.
The Uruguayan found the ball inside the left of the box with a forest of defenders surrounding him. He nutmegged Rafael, and evaded John O'Shea and Wes Brown with some neat, nippy footwork before laying it for Kuyt to tap in from a yard away. At that moment, Anfield realised they were witnessing their new hero.
Manchester United found themselves seeped in further trouble when Meireles floated a nothing ball in from the right, but saw it go towards the backtracking Nani. However, the Portuguese winger mistimed his header, and instead of clearing the danger, he inadvertently headed it back across goal to the waiting Kuyt. He made it two goals with an easy header past Van der Sar and Anfield erupted for the second time.
United were clearly frustrated and it led to some ugly scenes before half time. It all sparked when Carragher lunged into a late challenge against Nani, catching him on his shin. He seemed to be in a lot of pain, and as the United players appealed for a red card, Nani managed to stumble across to Dowd, pointing towards his leg. Gerrard got involved as did Van der Sar who ran all the way from the other end of the field. Dowd showed a yellow to Carragher, and Nani had to be stretchered off. He was in tears and held his head in his hands as he left the field. There was mixed reactions as to whether Nani was seriously injured, or whether he was attempting to ease out off his mistake.
Two minutes later, just before half-time, there was another scuffle when young Rafael slid into Lucas with a two-footed tackle with his studs raised. Lucas did well to jump clear, but the malice was evident, and Rafael turned around to find Skrtel pushing him. Players gathered again, many tussles and scuffles broke out. Dowd showed both Rafael and Skrtel a yellow.
The second half started with United on the front foot, attempting to get back into the game and 10 minutes of attacking later, they saw an attempt cleared off the line. A cleared corner was put back in by Rooney for Giggs who headed across goal for Berbatov. The Bulgarian's snap-shot was taken on the chest and cleared by Meireles on the line and United's appeal for a hand ball fell into deaf ears.
Five minutes later, Liverpool had made it three. Kuyt was fouled, around 30 yards from goal, and Suarez struck the resulting free kick with venom. Van der Sar should have done better to cling on to it, though, and as he spilled the ball, Kuyt was the first to it and tapped in his third. It was his first hat-trick for Liverpool.
The goal deflated the visitors and United tried and failed to pick themselves up. They did score late on in injury time when Hernandez headed in from the center of the box. But the game was all but over then. It was a sensational victory for Liverpool as they saw the emergence of a new hero, the debut of a potential hero, as Andy Carroll came on for his first Liverpool appearance, and a perfect albeit two days belated 60th birthday gift for manager Kenny Dalglish.
The win handed Arsenal another chance for a pop at the title. The result has blown the title race wide open, and it remains to be seen whether United can get back onto their feet and surge on to win it. However, as Anfield cheered, so did Arsenal, all the way till London. Faint cheers were even audible at Manchester City and Chelsea!