After it was Berbatov who stole the headlines when the two teams met at Old Trafford, Dirk Kuyt made sure that wouldn’t be an encore as his hat-trick helped Liverpool seal a morale boosting 3-1 victory over Manchester United in the a fiery encounter at Anfield. United’s makeshift defence of Smalling and Brown, starting in place of the injured Rio Ferdinand and suspended Nemanja Vidic, couldn’t handle the pace and trickery of Luis Suarez, who played a hand in all of Kuyt’s goals.
Ferguson decided to start with Berbatov and the in-form Rooney up front while Scholes and Carrick were handed the responsibility of managing the midfield. Rafael returned to take his place at right back while Evra was fit enough to start at left back. For Liverpool, Steven Gerrard started despite injury concerns while big signing Andy Carroll was named on the bench for the first time since his move from Newcastle in January. Liverpool, with a new approach to the game since Kenny Daglish took over, began the game in sparkling fashion with quick short passes around the field but it was Berbatov who came close to taking the lead as his volley hit the outside of Reina’s post. Brown’s header was cleared of the line by Meireles as United looked to make amends for their loss to Chelsea in midweek.
However it would be Liverpool that would score the opening goal. Suarez beat Rafael and Smalling with his quick feet and squared off to Kuyt who drilled in from close range to send the home fans in a frenzy. They were not done yet! Nani misjudged a deep cross from Suarez and headed it back towards his own goal where Kuyt gleefully nodded home his second to double Liverpool’s lead. Tempers began to flare towards the end of the half as Carragher’s rash challenge meant that Nani had a premature end to his afternoon as he was stretchered of the field. Carragher was lucky to escape with a yellow while Van Der Sar was booked for dissent. Rafael and Skrtel soon entered the referee’s book after they got into a tussle of their own.
United showed more intent after the break with Berbatov and Giggs coming close to scoring. In what could have been the turning point of the match, Berbatov’s header was then cleared of the line by Meireles much to the frustration of the travelling fans. Liverpool then completed the rout as Van Der Sar failed to hang on to a Suarez freekick only for Kuyt’s predatory instincts to take over and he coolly slot home to become the first Liverpudlian since Peter Beardsley in 1990 to score a hat trick against Manchester United. Although United finally broke through the Reds’ defence when Hernandez rose high to head in Giggs’ cross, it was too little, too late!
Their second consecutive loss meant that United’s lead at the top of the table was cut down to three points over Arsenal, who have a game in hand, thus opening up the title race once again this season.