Liverpool’s perfect start to the season continues, but a 1-0 win over bitter rivals Manchester United could yet carry greater significance beyond extending their record to nine points from three games and sitting atop the Premier League at this early stage. For the third league game running the win was secured by just the single goal and once more it was Daniel Sturridge that provided it.
This time his strike came in just the fourth minute. As in previous victories over Stoke City and Aston Villa, some of Liverpool’s early vigor faded but, in once again keeping a clean sheet, this time against the champions no less, Brendan Rodgers has plenty of reason to be encouraged about the season ahead.
Manchester United boss David Moyes will be left with very different feelings. In the days leading up to the match, United made bids for three central midfielders. Further evidence wasn’t required for the need to reinforce an area of United’s squad that has been neglected for so long, but the performance at Anfield certainly provided it.
While Moyes could take a credible point from an uninspiring performance against Chelsea last week, there was nothing to glean on this occasion. With Wayne Rooney ruled out for several weeks with a cut to his head and Shinji Kagawa not even on the bench, seemingly unfit, United were short of both quality and intensity.
Liverpool pressed their opponents from the off and within four minutes they were rewarded with a dream start. Ashley Young conceded possession in the left-back slot and, while United would survive initially when Sturridge’s shot was deflected wide, it would be the most temporary of reprieves. From the resulting corner, Daniel Agger stooped to win a header ahead of Rio Ferdinand and Sturridge showed his striker’s instincts as he flicked the ball on with his back to goal to send it into the corner of the net.
United initially responded well to going behind and showed good energy to try and hassle their opponents, but that intensity quickly faded. Not for the first time United’s midfield was found wanting. With Ryan Giggs struggling to play at the pace required and Tom Cleverley failing to influence the match in any discernable way in the middle, United lacked both dynamism and creativity.
While Liverpool were organized and pressing well without the ball when they had it they also showed more inventiveness and flexibility than their opponents. The closest the visitors could muster to an equalizer before the break was an ambitious overhead kick over the crossbar from Robin van Persie, while Danny Welbeck was tackled well by Glen Johnson as he looked poised to threaten Simon Mignolet.
The frustration was also building in United’s ranks. Robin van Persie was involved in a skirmish before the interval, while Michael Carrick was close to receiving a second yellow card at the start of the second half.
United had begun the period with greater purpose and had Liverpool firmly on the back foot for the first 20 minutes after the break. His side were undoubtedly ceding more initiative than Brendan Rodgers would have wanted, but they continued to hold their opponents at bay with few real dramas. Hearts will have been firmly in mouth around Anfield, though, when Agger’s poor headed clearance from a corner fell to Young on the edge of the box and the winger’s sweetly struck effort was heading toward goal before being blocked by Johnson.
United needed a spark to go again in search of an equalizer. There were few options on the bench to provide it. Nani, linked with a move away for much of the summer, almost provided the something special that was required with a fierce shot from 20 yards that was palmed away by Mignolet for his first real save of the match with 13 minutes remaining.
Javier Hernandez was also called on from the bench for his first appearance of the campaign. The bundle of energy looked to spark something with a good pass to get Van Persie in behind for the first time in the match but the Dutchman’s instant shot from the corner of the six-yard box fizzed wide of the near post.
That was as close as United came and, in truth, United could have no complaints about walking away empty handed from the home of their arch rivals. Liverpool again showed the know-how to get over the finish line as they secured maximum points from their first three games for the first time since 1994.