Three goals to nil at Manchester United. Three goals to nil and it could have been more. The only possible point comparison in recent seasons would be 2009's 4-1 thrashing as part of Liverpool's thrilling but untimely unsuccessful title bid. On that occasion, though, United opened the scoring and looked the better side at times while a gutsy Liverpool performance saw the visitors overcome the favoured hosts.
This time around it was perhaps a touch less thrilling, but that was only because of how dominant Liverpool were in every phase of play and every area of the pitch. Liverpool's efforts in 2009 were those of heroic underdogs. Here they were overwhelming, grinding down a disjointed, overmatched opponent. It made for another game Liverpool fans will remember for quite some time—if for very different reasons.
"We won't ever forget this," reflected midfielder Joe Allen following the match. "It's a great feeling to be involved in a game like that The hunger and desire we showed throughout the game was great. To come and pick up three points from a game at Old Trafford is a feeling I'm sure many of us will never forget [and] from a personal point of view, it was great to be involved from the start in a game like this."
The diminutive midfielder and boyhood United fan, who has returned to the starting eleven against United and Southampton to help Liverpool win the midfield battle on the road against a pair of top half opponents, turned in a strong performance as the left side of Brendan Rodgers' midfield diamond. Though outside a relatively quiet day for the club's two strikers, one would be hard pressed to find a player who didn't.
Along with Jordan Henderson, Allen's constant shuttling and impressive work rate helped Liverpool to overload the midfield. It also highlighted David Moyes' tactical naiveté in playing Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj against them for more than 75 minutes, with both United players questionable defensively and tending to drift inside rather than asking questions in the wider areas where the 4-4-2 diamond is weakest.
"When there's only a goal in it, you're always looking to get that cushion," added Allen of winning Liverpool's second penalty, one not only confirmed United's defeat but also that Liverpool really are in the midst of what 12 months ago would have seemed an impossible title challenge. "We started the second half well and got the second goal from the penalty spot and I think that really set the tone for the rest of the game."
That tone was one of comprehensive victory over a rival that appears on the verge of the kind of collapse Liverpool suffered though in recent years. Liverpool's players to a man worked harder than their counterparts, and while Rodgers deserves praise for the his tactics, perhaps most striking is that David Moyes went the entire match without seeming to realise quite why his side was being so thoroughly dominated.
As impressive as Liverpool's victory was, the shocking ineptitude shown by United's manager made for a match that was never really in doubt. Unlike 2009's thrilling victory at Old Trafford between the league's two top sides, this time around it was a match that seemed to confirm a pair of starkly divergent trajectories—on one side the dream of competing for titles; on the other the nightmare of years in the wilderness.