ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Manchester United 1
Liverpool were beaten by a Liverpudlian. Manchester United were saved by a Scouser. If this proves a turning point by relieving the pressure on Louis van Gaal, the Manchester United manager can thank his captain.
Back in his home city, Wayne Rooney scored his first goal at Anfield since 2005 to deliver just United's second win in 10 Premier League games. It was a historic moment and an exercise in efficiency. One shot on target, one goal.
United had been utterly impotent, lacking incision and invention. Yet when Marouane Fellaini's header bounced back off the bar, Rooney reacted wonderfully, adjusting his body to finish with technical expertise and some force.
It was his fifth goal in four games. At a time when van Gaal needed an ally, he found one. Liverpool were entitled to feel unlucky. Fellaini had risked a red card, clashing with Lucas Leiva, who felt he stamped on his foot, and being booked for hacking down Jordan Henderson, before he set up Rooney's winner. Yet Liverpool were also architects of their undoing.
Their frailty at set-pieces is signposted. This, albeit indirectly, was the third game in a row when they conceded from a corner, with Daley Blind laying the ball back to Juan Mata, who picked out Fellaini with a cross. Simon Mignolet got his hand to Rooney's resulting shot but the Liverpool goalkeeper did not register a save in the game.
For the most part, he did not need to. His opposite number was busier and, as is so often the case, United could be grateful for David de Gea's excellence. He had denied Emre Can twice. Minus a specialist striker - Roberto Firmino again deputised - the onus was on the Liverpool midfielders to fashion something. Can deceived Chris Smalling with a dummy, powered into the box and drew a save from de Gea. When the German unleashed a thunderbolt, the Spaniard saved United again.
Juergen Klopp's strategy was evident. Liverpool's threat initially stemmed from quick long passes, aimed at their midfield runners, which caught United out at the back. Firmino shot inches wide after de Gea left his line to block Adam Lallana's header. They mustered the slicker passing moves, too, and from one Jordan Henderson angled a shot past the far post.
United, meanwhile, were muted. Until Anthony Martial whipped a shot across the face of goal, his major contribution was a vital defensive interception to thwart Firmino.
Neither Jesse Lingard nor Ander Herrera mustered much, but the United fans booed van Gaal's decision to substitute the popular Spaniard. It seemed a familiar tale of ponderous, unambitious football as an eighth 0-0 draw of the season beckoned.
Then Rooney intervened. United are only two points off fourth position, Liverpool very much outsiders in the race for a Champions League place.