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Daniel Sturridge capped his birthday with the winner as Liverpool maintained their unbeaten run with a 1-0 victory over Manchester United.
The striker – who turned 24 on Sunday – made it 11 goals from his last nine appearances in all competitions with a close-range header in the fourth minute to move the hosts top of the Barclays Premier League table.
Man United battled in vain to come back into the game, but Simon Mignolet remained defiant as he kept his third clean sheet of the season.
Brendan Rodgers was forced to change his Liverpool starting XI for the first time in the Barclays Premier League this season as a groin injury kept Kolo Toure out. Martin Skrtel replaced the Ivorian at the heart of Liverpool’s defence alongside Daniel Agger.
Wayne Rooney was the notable absentee for the visitors – the striker ruled out with a head injury – with Antonio Valencia dropping to the bench as Ashley Young and Ryan Giggs replaced them.
With Tiago Ilori, Mamadou Sakho and Victor Moses all watching on from the stands ahead of potential moves to Anfield, the hosts had the perfect start with a goal inside four minutes
Steven Gerrard’s corner was met by Agger and as his header flew towards goal, Sturridge reacted quickly to divert the ball into the back of the net from close range.
United reacted well to conceding so early and might have levelled on three occasions as Danny Welbeck and Robin van Persie both missed presentable chances. Welbeck fired two shots straight at Simon Mignolet and Van Persie failed to react to a Giggs corner that had evaded a host of players inside the penalty area.
Rodgers’ side controlled the majority of the half with neat passing and fluid movement, but were unable to test David de Gea in the United goal.
Young – who had been quiet in the first half – went close to equalising for the visitors just after the break with the visitors’ best sight of goal. Liverpool failed to clear a corner but Young’s half-volley struck Glen Johnson and deflected away.
The rivalry between the two sides began to intensify as the game reached the hour mark, referee Andre Marriner issuing five yellow cards – four of them to United players.
United substitute Nani stung the palms of Mignolet minutes after coming on but the hosts were able to keep their opponents at bay.
Van Persie fired wide following a Javier Hernandez through-ball and a fine De Gea save also denied Raheem Sterling in stoppage time as Liverpool clung on to record the victory.
Liverpool's victory, however, was tempered by the departure of Johnson late in the game through injury. Watching England manager Roy Hodgson will have been particularly concerned given Phil Jones also limped out in the second half.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers: "I thought the result was outstanding, and defensively I thought we were very, very good. We'll be more fluent and as the season goes on we'll become better, but these are the big games we wanted to be winning this year. I think you see the togetherness and spirit this year, to get three wins out of three I can only be happy with."
"[I'm] delighted with [Daniel Sturridge’s] application because he was nowhere near fit today. He played a full game and extra time in the week and had slight knock on his thigh. Even at 70% he'll be as good if not better than a lot of Premier League strikers.
"[He showed] great anticipation coming off the keeper, and when he's on the pitch he can be a threat so there's no doubting his qualities."
Manchester United manager David Moyes: "We'll continue working for what we have left [of the window] to get what we can in, but I was really impressed with the players today. I can see why they were champions.
"I think we played really well, we just couldn't get that last bit to score. With the exception of the opening few minutes when we gave away a bad goal, it was probably the best we have played all season."
"It wasn't for the want of trying or the lack of attacking players on the pitch trying to get them to score. It would have been a tough ask even if Sir Alex was in charge. This is undoubtedly a really big fixture for both clubs and to play Chelsea is undoubtedly a really big fixture.
"I think we have maybe not come out of the three matches with as many points as we'd like, but we've shown we are in good."
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|23 Nov 2013||v Everton (A)|
|30 Mar 2014||v Spurs (H)|
|26 Oct 2013||v West Brom (H)|
|07 Dec 2013||v West Ham (H)|
|15 Dec 2013||v Spurs (A)|