Manchester United secured a sixth consecutive Barclays Premier League victory by beating Liverpool 3-0 at Old Trafford.
Wayne Rooney netted a ninth goal in his last eight appearances on home turf to give United a 12th minute lead, 25 seconds after Raheem Sterling had passed up a fine opportunity to put Liverpool ahead. Louis van Gaal's men doubled their advantage after 40 minutes as Juan Mata stooped to score from Ashley Young's cross at the far post.
Liverpool created the clearer openings over the course of the contest but a fine display from United goalkeeper David de Gea, saving three times from Sterling and Mario Balotelli, served to frustrate them before Robin Van Persie completed the scoring with less than 20 minutes left. The result comes after Liverpool exited the UEFA Champions League in midweek, while for United, it acts as a measure of revenge for the 3-0 beating Liverpool dished out in last season's corresponding fixture.
Brad Jones played a first Barclays Premier League match in almost two years for Liverpool as Simon Mignolet was dropped to the bench, where Balotelli was named having overcome a groin injury.
The intrigue in the United line-up came at the other end of the pitch as James Wilson was selected to partner Van Persie up front, with Rooney playing a supporting role in an attacking line-up. Marouane Fellaini collected an early booking for fouling Adam Lallana but the England midfielder recovered to thread a deft through ball for Sterling to draw a first save of the match from De Gea in the 12th minute.
United surged back at Liverpool immediately to open the scoring. Antonio Valencia nutmegged Joe Allen and picked out Rooney, who was afforded room to steer home side-footed from 16 yards.
De Gea held a deflected drive from Steven Gerrard as Liverpool looked to regain their footing and Sterling gave the Spain goalkeeper a more taxing save when he skipped past Phil Jones in the 23rd minute.
The visitors were then forced into a defensive change, Glen Johnson hobbling off to be replaced by Kolo Toure, and they fell 2-0 behind five minutes before the interval. Young cut back to cross right-footed and Mata nodded home.
Balotelli came on for Lallana at the break and Jordan Henderson headed Sterling's left-wing centre over as Liverpool sought a quick response. Sterling spurned his team's clearest opportunity of the match, allowing De Gea to block after Jonny Evans' backpass had sold his goalkeeper short.
Van Persie could have put the result beyond doubt after the hour when he sidefooted wide from Valencia's excellent low delivery, and De Gea's finest moment arrived midway through the second period as he touched Balotelli's snapshot onto the crossbar with a stunning reaction save.
With 18 minutes remaining, Van Persie atoned for his earlier miss as Mata gave him a simple finish after Dejan Lovren's misjudged clearance.
Balotelli was twice frustrated by De Gea from close range once more before Jones produced a save to compare with his opposite number's collection in the 87th minute, as Van Persie smashed towards the roof of the net.
Challenging for a top-four place to return to European football's top table next season looks an increasingly tall order for Liverpool, who lie ninth, 10 points behind United in third.
|20 Dec 2014||v Aston Villa (A)|
|26 Dec 2014||v Newcastle (H)|
|28 Dec 2014||v Spurs (A)|
|01 Jan 2015||v Stoke (A)|
|11 Jan 2015||v Southampton (H)|
|17 Jan 2015||v QPR (A)|