Manchester United kept a firm grip on the Premier League title race with a deserved victory against Liverpool at Old Trafford.
The meeting had been billed as the battle of the strikers between Manchester United's Robin van Persie and Liverpool counterpart Luis Suarez.
And it was Van Persie who made the decisive contribution as he put United ahead with a brilliant first-half finish then provided the free-kick for the second after 54 minutes as Patrice Evra's header deflected in off Nemanja Vidic.
Liverpool's £12m signing from Chelsea Daniel Sturridge scored for the second successive game after coming on as substitute to give Brendan Rodgers's side hope and set up an anxious finish for United.
Sturridge missed a glorious chance to give Liverpool a point that their inferiority for the first hour barely deserved, but United closed out the win to go 10 points clear at the top of the table ahead of Manchester City's visit to Arsenal.
The scale of Van Persie's influence since his £24m summer arrival from Arsenal can be illustrated by the fact that this was his 10th goal in 10 games - and he has scored in nine of them.
United were eventually relieved to get the three points after outplaying Liverpool for long periods, only to fail to convert a succession of chances in the opening 45 minutes. One could only imagine manager Sir Alex Ferguson's reaction had they squandered their advantage.
"A narrow win for Manchester United, who were supremely comfortable for the first hour with goals from Robin van Persie and Nemanja Vidic putting them in front.
"Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge's introduction changed the game and the visitors bossed the end of the game. Liverpool gave their rivals a scare but United take the points."
Liverpool can take a measure of consolation from a lively closing phase, but the 24-point gap between themselves and the club they regard as fierce rivals makes painful reading. They were too passive and negative until United had a two-goal lead, with £15m summer signing Joe Allen looking out of his depth in midfield before he was taken off.
Rodgers decided to keep Sturridge on the bench - leaving Suarez with virtually a watching brief in a first half controlled by Manchester United.
Netherlands striker Van Persie demonstrated his world class quality to put United ahead after 19 minutes.
United opened up Liverpool with controlled possession and Van Persie reacted quicker than Daniel Agger to clip an instant finish past keeper Pepe Reina from Evra's cross.
Danny Welbeck was a somewhat surprising selection alongside Van Persie but more than justified his inclusion with an energetic display. He was off target with one effort and then it took a brilliant tackle from Agger to halt the striker after Allen gifted United possession.
Allen was fortunate again when his poor defensive header fell to Tom Cleverley, whose crisp volley flew inches wide with Reina beaten.
As Liverpool struggled to stay in the game, they had their biggest escape on the stroke of half-time as both Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa failed to turn in Rafael's cross, Reina needing lengthy treatment after being injured in the scramble.
Both sides made changes at the interval. Antonio Valencia replaced Ashley Young, who had been injured in a collision with Agger, while Liverpool sent on the more attack-minded Sturridge for Lucas Leiva.
It was United who extended their lead nine minutes after the break when poor marking allowed Evra to steal in on Van Persie's free-kick, his header brushing off Vidic to beat Reina.
Liverpool, outplayed for so long, needed an instant response and got one as Sturridge was first to react as United keeper David de Gea could only push out Steven Gerrard's shot.
At last the battle had been joined, but it still needed Reina to show great athleticism to save from Shinji Kagawa's precise 20-yard effort.
Remarkably given their first half domination, United spent the closing minutes hanging on and Sturridge wasted a great chance to give Liverpool an unlikely point after Suarez wriggled his way into the area.
- 01 De Gea
- 02 Rafael
- 03 Evra Booked
- 05 Ferdinand
- 15 Vidic (Smalling - 79' )
- 16 Carrick
- 18 Young (Valencia - 46' )
- 23 Cleverley
- 26 Kagawa (Jones - 77' )
- 19 Welbeck
- 20 Van Persie
- 40 Amos
- 04 Jones
- 12 Smalling
- 07 Valencia
- 08 Anderson
- 11 Giggs
- 14 Hernandez
- 25 Reina
- 02 Johnson Booked
- 05 Agger Booked
- 37 Skrtel Booked
- 47 Wisdom
- 08 Gerrard
- 19 Downing
- 21 Lucas Booked (Sturridge - 46' )
- 24 Allen (Henderson - 80' )
- 31 Sterling (Borini - 62' )
- 07 Suarez
- 01 Jones
- 23 Carragher
- 49 Robinson
- 14 Henderson
- 33 Shelvey
- 15 Sturridge
- 29 Borini
Live Text Commentary
Full Time The referee signals the end of the game.90:00 +3:30
Direct free kick taken by Robin van Persie.90:00 +3:30 Booking
Booking Booking for Daniel Agger for unsporting behaviour.90:00 +3:19
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Tom Cleverley by Daniel Agger.90:00 +2:01
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Antonio Valencia by Jordan Henderson. Rafael Da Silva takes the free kick.90:00 +1:28
Centre by Glen Johnson, Luis Suarez takes a shot. Save by David De Gea.90:00 +0:21
A cross is delivered by Antonio Valencia, Robin van Persie takes a shot. Comfortable save by Jose Reina.89:46
Shot by Daniel Sturridge from deep inside the penalty area misses to the left of the target.89:33
Unfair challenge on Martin Skrtel by Antonio Valencia results in a free kick. Glen Johnson restarts play with the free kick.88:53
Foul by Steven Gerrard on Michael Carrick, free kick awarded. Free kick taken by David De Gea.88:33
Glen Johnson takes a shot. Blocked by Antonio Valencia.86:38
The official flags Robin van Persie offside. Indirect free kick taken by Daniel Agger.86:04
Antonio Valencia fouled by Glen Johnson, the ref awards a free kick. David De Gea takes the direct free kick.85:41
The ball is sent over by Stewart Downing, clearance made by Rafael Da Silva.84:24
Effort from inside the area by Daniel Sturridge misses to the right of the target.79:17
Daniel Agger takes the free kick.79:17 Substitution
Substitution (Liverpool) makes a substitution, with Jordan Henderson coming on for Joe Allen.79:17
Unfair challenge on Joe Allen by Robin van Persie results in a free kick.78:35 Substitution
Substitution Chris Smalling is brought on as a substitute for Nemanja Vidic.77:27
Tom Cleverley takes a inswinging corner from the left by-line to the near post, Stewart Downing makes a clearance.
Substitution Phil Jones joins the action as a substitute, replacing Shinji Kagawa.76:12
Tom Cleverley crosses the ball.75:25
Free kick taken by Rio Ferdinand.75:25 Booking
Booking Glen Johnson goes into the book for unsporting behaviour.75:17
Glen Johnson challenges Patrice Evra unfairly and gives away a free kick.74:51
Foul by Antonio Valencia on Joe Allen, free kick awarded. Daniel Agger takes the direct free kick.72:57
Free kick crossed right-footed by Steven Gerrard, clearance made by Rio Ferdinand.72:57 Booking
Booking Patrice Evra goes into the book.72:46
Patrice Evra gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Stewart Downing.71:37
Effort from the edge of the area by Fabio Borini goes wide of the right-hand upright.69:47
Effort from deep inside the area by Daniel Sturridge misses to the left of the goal.66:57
Glen Johnson has an effort at goal from just outside the area which goes wide of the left-hand post.63:30
Corner taken by Robin van Persie.63:07
Shinji Kagawa takes a shot. Save made by Jose Reina.61:30
Free kick taken by Rio Ferdinand.61:30 Substitution
Substitution Fabio Borini on for Raheem Sterling.61:30
The referee blows for offside against Luis Suarez.59:47
Steven Gerrard challenges Robin van Persie unfairly and gives away a free kick. Robin van Persie has an effort direct from the free kick.58:51
Daniel Sturridge fouled by Nemanja Vidic, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by Steven Gerrard.57:58
Unfair challenge on Rafael Da Silva by Raheem Sterling results in a free kick. Free kick taken by Michael Carrick.56:50
Steven Gerrard provided the assist for the goal.56:50 Goal scored
Goal! - Daniel Sturridge - Man Utd 2 - 1 Liverpool Daniel Sturridge gets on the score sheet with a goal from inside the six-yard box to the bottom left corner of the goal. Man Utd 2-1 Liverpool.56:45
Steven Gerrard takes a shot. David De Gea makes a save.56:15
Luis Suarez takes a shot. Blocked by Nemanja Vidic.53:35
Patrice Evra takes a shot.53:36
Assist on the goal came from Patrice Evra.53:36 Goal scored
Goal! - Nemanja Vidic - Man Utd 2 - 0 Liverpool Nemanja Vidic finds the back of the net with a headed goal from inside the six-yard box. Man Utd 2-0 Liverpool.52:37
Robin van Persie delivers the ball,52:37 Booking
Booking Martin Skrtel goes into the referee's book.52:25
Foul by Martin Skrtel on Danny Welbeck, free kick awarded.51:03
Andre Wisdom produces a right-footed shot from deep inside the penalty box which goes wide of the right-hand upright.50:30
The ball is sent over by Glen Johnson, clearance made by Rio Ferdinand.49:16
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Luis Suarez by Michael Carrick. Direct free kick taken by Steven Gerrard.48:49
Unfair challenge on Raheem Sterling by Rafael Da Silva results in a free kick. Glen Johnson takes the free kick.47:35
Joe Allen concedes a free kick for a foul on Shinji Kagawa. Strike comes in from Robin van Persie from the free kick.47:06
Luis Suarez challenges Michael Carrick unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick taken by Michael Carrick.46:33
Danny Welbeck produces a left-footed shot from the edge of the area and misses to the left of the target.45:01
The second half kicks off.45:01 Substitution
Substitution Leiva Lucas leaves the field to be replaced by Daniel Sturridge.45:01 Substitution
Substitution Antonio Valencia joins the action as a substitute, replacing Ashley Young.45:00 +5:24 Half time
Half Time The half-time whistle blows.45:00 +3:43
The free kick is swung in left-footed by Robin van Persie, clearance made by Daniel Agger.45:00 +3:43 Booking
Booking Leiva Lucas is cautioned by the ref for unsporting behaviour.45:00 +3:35
Leiva Lucas challenges Ashley Young unfairly and gives away a free kick.44:24
Robin van Persie takes a shot. Martin Skrtel gets a block in.41:22
Corner taken by Stewart Downing from the right by-line, Rio Ferdinand makes a clearance.40:42
Tom Cleverley has an effort at goal from just inside the box that misses to the right of the goal.40:26
Ashley Young produces a cross.35:56
Effort on goal by Luis Suarez from just inside the box goes harmlessly over the target.34:20
Effort on goal by Danny Welbeck from just inside the box goes harmlessly over the target.32:50
Danny Welbeck takes a shot. Blocked by Daniel Agger.32:10
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Glen Johnson by Robin van Persie. Daniel Agger takes the free kick.28:38
Unfair challenge on Ashley Young by Glen Johnson results in a free kick. Free kick taken by Rafael Da Silva.27:59
Unfair challenge on Shinji Kagawa by Leiva Lucas results in a free kick. Free kick taken by Michael Carrick.26:02
Effort on goal by Robin van Persie from just inside the area clears the crossbar.23:52
Glen Johnson produces a cross.23:12
The ball is delivered by Andre Wisdom, Nemanja Vidic makes a clearance.20:41
Michael Carrick fouled by Joe Allen, the ref awards a free kick. Michael Carrick takes the direct free kick.20:08
Michael Carrick challenges Joe Allen unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick taken by Glen Johnson.18:17
The assist for the goal came from Patrice Evra.18:17 Goal scored
Goal! - Robin van Persie - Man Utd 1 - 0 Liverpool Robin van Persie scores a goal from inside the penalty area low into the middle of the goal. Man Utd 1-0 Liverpool.18:14
The ball is sent over by Patrice Evra,16:43
Robin van Persie takes a shot. Blocked by Martin Skrtel.15:46
Foul by Michael Carrick on Raheem Sterling, free kick awarded. Free kick taken by Daniel Agger.15:08
Ashley Young is flagged offside by the assistant referee. Free kick taken by Jose Reina.12:14
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Luis Suarez by Patrice Evra. Steven Gerrard delivers the ball from the free kick right-footed from right channel, Rafael Da Silva makes a clearance.11:33
Daniel Agger concedes a free kick for a foul on Robin van Persie. Michael Carrick takes the free kick.11:13
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Shinji Kagawa by Leiva Lucas. Tom Cleverley takes the free kick.10:28
Ashley Young concedes a free kick for a foul on Raheem Sterling. Free kick crossed by Steven Gerrard, Tom Cleverley manages to make a clearance.9:25
Robin van Persie takes a shot. Blocked by Daniel Agger.8:43
Free kick awarded for a foul by Shinji Kagawa on Raheem Sterling. Jose Reina restarts play with the free kick.8:11
Ashley Young takes a inswinging corner from the left by-line to the near post, Leiva Lucas manages to make a clearance.4:55
Patrice Evra delivers the ball, Jose Reina makes a comfortable save.4:44
The ball is sent over by Ashley Young, Martin Skrtel makes a clearance.3:13
Centre by Shinji Kagawa, blocked by Andre Wisdom.2:12
Ashley Young concedes a free kick for a foul on Raheem Sterling. Free kick taken by Glen Johnson.0:00
The match begins.
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