Liverpool prey on Man Utd weakness
Manchester United left Anfield surrounded by a wall of silence considerably more resolute and unified than the flimsy barricade so easily dismantled by Liverpool on an abject afternoon for Sir Alex Ferguson.
Perhaps Ferguson and United's chastened players were hoping the harrowing 90 minutes they endured at an exultant Anfield, especially at the flying footwear of Liverpool's new attacking idol Luis Suarez, was merely a bad dream.
No such luck for the silent knight. The black-out could just as easily have been attributed to acute embarrassment because the brutal reality and the real story was a defeat deservedly inflicted by a Liverpool team revived under Kenny Dalglish and galvanised by the sight of a United team that looked jaded and lacked - a factor of great significance - the absent Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
United are still favourites to claim the 19th title that will put them out on their own ahead of Liverpool, but they may need to rely on the generosity and failings of their rivals unless their form improves.
The sullen mood of Ferguson and his players was in sharp contrast to the smiles of Dalglish and the celebrations sweeping around Anfield at the final whistle as Liverpool put their recovery back on track after the loss at West Ham United.
Dalglish turned 60 on Friday, a landmark acknowledged in song by the Kop, but the gift he most wanted is to be back in charge at Liverpool - a pleasure encapsulated with the words: "Every day is my birthday when I go into Melwood."
Dalglish's Liverpool proved too strong for Ferguson's Manchester United at Anfield
And what joy Dalglish and his team gave Anfield by inflicting pain on United while revelling in the pleasure of the deeds of £23m Uruguayan Suarez and a hat-trick from Dirk Kuyt, whose finishes may well have covered the shortest aggregate yardage of any treble in the game's history.
Kuyt covered his usual distance to torment United's uncertain rearguard but even this most modest of players will happily bow to the prominence of Suarez, whose twisting penalty box slalom past Rafael, Wes Brown and Michael Carrick to set up his first goal was worthy of Dalglish in his pomp. It was an electrifying, decisive moment.
Suarez never wasted a moment standing still. He is constantly on the move, looking to make mischief, preying on defenders' nerves. He even has an uncanny knack of sailing past opponents just at the point when he looks to be falling over.
Kuyt's success after reverting back to his former role of striker gives Dalglish nice selection complications, especially with Liverpool's comfortable margin of supremacy allowing him the luxury of giving £35m Andy Carroll a brief debut outing as substitute.
Nani set up Kuyt's second with a misdirected header only he can fully explain while United's desperate display was summed up in the moment the normally reliable Edwin van der Sar spilled Suarez's free-kick into Kuyt's path for his third after 65 minutes.
Javier Hernandez's stoppage-time strike cannot be dignified with the description of a consolation goal. There was not a jot of consolation here for United, who have suffered two consecutive losses and have looked out of gas after a vibrant first 45 minutes at Chelsea.
Sadly the game did not come without its dark side, played out in the moments before half-time when Nani's misery was compounded by an horrific challenge by Jamie Carragher that saw him stretchered off.
The tackle was followed by scenes of confrontation involving players from both sides, repeated seconds later when Rafael flew into Lucas having been clipped by Maxi Rodriguez.
Referee Phil Dowd spared Carragher from what should have been the straightest of straight red cards, then perhaps felt obliged to show similar excessive leniency to Rafael when he should also have gone.
Officials sometimes win misplaced praise for simply keeping 22 players on the pitch. Carragher and Rafael deserved to go and neither manager would have had a complaint had they done so.
Liverpool's win hardly shapes a season but it is a marker for the future, such was the emphatic nature of the triumph. Sharper, more powerful, more mobile, more pacey from first to last on this day at least, it was another demonstration of why Dalglish's permanent appointment must now be little more than a formality.
Kuyt scored his first hat-trick for Liverpool - photo: Getty.
Anfield is a different environment from the dismal arena it was under Roy Hodgson. Optimism has returned and the mere sight of Dalglish in the dug-out gives comfort to supporters disillusioned not so long ago.
United's performance must be accompanied by the mitigating circumstances that saw them stripped of Ferdinand and Vidic, but this stale affair gave off the air of a team that must now be subjected to rebuilding irrespective of what successes may or may not come this season.
Even if United win the Premier League and claim other silverware, and history tells us this must never be discounted, it is not a side to compare with Ferguson's teams of the past in a season that can hardly be placed in a golden era for domestic football. This is a side producing a growing body of evidence, of which this defeat was the latest example, that it is reaching the end of the line in its current form.
Chris Smalling remains an impressive work in progress, but some harsh lessons came his way courtesy of the movement and work-rate of Suarez and Kuyt while Brown gave an object lesson in why Ferguson has turned a blind eye to him for much of this season.
Paul Scholes struggled to make an impact in his second high-octane game inside a week and received little help from Carrick. Carrick's contract extension has been greeted with a wave of indifference from United's fans and his performances have been at a level that would have seen him eased towards Old Trafford's exit in the not-so-distant past as opposed to being rewarded with a long-term deal.
Defeat will have been even more galling for Ferguson because Liverpool themselves are entering a period of heavy transition when they will reconstruct a squad that is still top heavy with players ill-equipped to meet the standards Dalglish will eventually demand.
Ferguson was linked with £100m of transfer business on the morning of this defeat, no doubt determined to fulfil the promise he has made to himself to leave United in rude health when he departs and also promises made to Wayne Rooney - utterly anonymous at Anfield - about squad strengthening after he threatened to leave earlier this season.
Names like Ashley Young, Jack Rodwell and Jordan Henderson may provide pace and fresh legs but Ferguson must also find a central midfielder of genuine world-class because inspiration in that area has been lacking for too long this season.
United's instinctive resilience and winning mentality, a quality that sets them apart and has sustained them for so long despite indifferent form this season, puts them in pole position to win the title but once this campaign reaches its conclusion Ferguson must reach for the Glazers' chequebook.
Liverpool will enter a new era of their own this summer when John W. Henry and the Fenway Sports Group put their stamp on the club. And it is a new era that will surely be led by Dalglish.