Match ends, Manchester United 0, Liverpool 3.
Manchester United 0-3 Liverpool
Steven Gerrard scored two penalties and missed a third as Liverpool emphasised their title credentials with a resounding win over reigning Premier League champions Manchester United at Old Trafford.
In what was seen as the biggest test of their ability to claim their first crown since 1990, Liverpool passed the examination in emphatic fashion against an abject United to move to within four points of leaders Chelsea, with a game in hand.
Liverpool captain Gerrard demonstrated their superiority with penalties either side of the interval as Brendan Rodgers's side exerted almost complete domination over a home team looking in need of a drastic overhaul.
Gerrard missed another spot-kick after Daniel Sturridge went to ground under a Nemanja Vidic challenge - the United captain picking up his fourth red card against Liverpool in the process - but there was no stopping Luis Suarez as he added a third.
At this stage last season there was a 29-point gap between these sides in United's favour as they beat Rodgers's team 2-1 at home.
But Liverpool's dominance here underscored the scale of the turnaround, their improvement and the collapse in fortunes at Old Trafford since manager David Moyes succeeded Sir Alex Ferguson.
Moyes must now pick up a bedraggled team before Wednesday's return Champions League game against Olympiakos, where they need to overcome a 2-0 deficit from the first leg in Greece.
For Liverpool, Rodgers and their exultant supporters there are no such concerns. The Reds are flying high with a self-belief that marks them out as having a real chance to win the title.
And with Manchester City and Chelsea, who lost to Aston Villa on Saturday, still to visit Anfield, Liverpool have been presented with a wonderful opportunity to claim the prize that was once almost a permanent presence in their trophy room.
Liverpool's intentions - not to mention the confidence now surging through this team - were clear inside two minutes as Sturridge found space inside the area from Jordan Henderson's pass but could not find the target.
They had claims for a penalty ignored when Marouane Fellaini tangled clumsily with Suarez. The Uruguayan stayed on his feet and was left a picture of frustration when the spot-kick was not awarded.
Sturridge squandered another opportunity for Liverpool, but that was a further sign of a sharpness and threat that was in complete contrast to a pedestrian United.
The goal Liverpool deserved finally arrived 10 minutes before the break when Rafael, who had just been booked for a wild challenge on Gerrard, clearly handled in the area. It was a straightforward decision for referee Mark Clattenburg and Gerrard scored the spot-kick with ease in front of the Stretford End.
United were unable to get their main attacking players into the game but they were given hope by Wayne Rooney's rising drive which was turned away by the diving Simon Mignolet.
All the plans Moyes will have laid out during the interval were sabotaged within moments of the restart as Liverpool were awarded a second penalty after Phil Jones bundled Joe Allen to the ground. Once more Gerrard stepped forward and once more he demonstrated his expertise from the spot.
Liverpool had been virtually untroubled but a rare ragged passage of play persuaded Rodgers to introduce Philippe Coutinho for Raheem Sterling with 19 minutes remaining.
United, in a move that was long overdue, made a change of their own with 15 minutes left, sending on Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley for Fellaini and Adnan Januzaj.
Remarkably, Liverpool were awarded a third penalty when Sturridge went down with Vidic in close proximity.
The Serbian defender remonstrated with the Liverpool striker, who he clearly felt had dived, and his frustration increased as he received a second yellow card and made his way off disconsolately.
Gerrard, with the rarest of opportunities, could not make it a hat-trick of successful penalties by a visiting side at Old Trafford, striking his effort against the base of the post.
Liverpool were taking full advantage of their numerical supremacy and it was no surprise when Suarez ran unhindered into the area to score, having been denied by a magnificent save from De Gea moments earlier.
United's fans chanted in defiance as the final whistle approached - but they were forced to accept an ominous message about their own shortcomings and Liverpool's growing stature as Clattenburg blew.
Man Utd reaction:
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- 1de Gea
- 2RafaelBooked at 32mins
- 15VidicBooked at 77mins
- 31FellainiSubstituted forCleverleyat 76'minutes
- 8MataSubstituted forFerdinandat 87'minutes
- 44JanuzajSubstituted forWelbeckat 76'minutes
- 20van Persie
- 25A Valencia
- 37SkrtelBooked at 54mins
- 38FlanaganBooked at 31mins
- 8GerrardBooked at 37minsSubstituted forLucasat 87'minutes
- 31SterlingSubstituted forCoutinhoat 72'minutes
- 15SturridgeBooked at 84minsSubstituted forIago Aspasat 90+2'minutes
- 9Iago Aspas
- Mark Clattenburg
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, Manchester United 0, Liverpool 3.
Foul by Luis Suarez (Liverpool).
Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt missed. Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) right footed shot from outside the box is just a bit too high from a direct free kick.
Foul by Lucas Leiva (Liverpool).
Danny Welbeck (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Substitution, Liverpool. Iago Aspas replaces Daniel Sturridge.
Foul by Joe Allen (Liverpool).
Rafael (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Attempt saved. Jordan Henderson (Liverpool) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Jon Flanagan.
Attempt missed. Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Jordan Henderson.
Substitution, Manchester United. Rio Ferdinand replaces Juan Mata.
Substitution, Liverpool. Lucas Leiva replaces Steven Gerrard.
Foul by Danny Welbeck (Manchester United).
Joe Allen (Liverpool) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Goal! Manchester United 0, Liverpool 3. Luis Suarez (Liverpool) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Daniel Sturridge.
Attempt missed. Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool) left footed shot from outside the box misses to the right. Assisted by Philippe Coutinho.
Corner, Liverpool. Conceded by David de Gea.
Attempt saved. Luis Suarez (Liverpool) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Glen Johnson.
Offside, Manchester United. Wayne Rooney tries a through ball, but Robin van Persie is caught offside.
Attempt missed. Luis Suarez (Liverpool) right footed shot from the left side of the box is close, but misses the top right corner. Assisted by Philippe Coutinho.
Penalty missed! Still Manchester United 0, Liverpool 2. Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) hits the left post with a right footed shot.
Second yellow card to Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United) for a bad foul.
Penalty conceded by Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United) after a foul in the penalty area.
Penalty Liverpool. Daniel Sturridge draws a foul in the penalty area.
Substitution, Manchester United. Danny Welbeck replaces Adnan Januzaj.
Substitution, Manchester United. Tom Cleverley replaces Marouane Fellaini.
Attempt missed. Robin van Persie (Manchester United) header from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Wayne Rooney with a cross.
Attempt missed. Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the right following a corner.
Corner, Liverpool. Conceded by Phil Jones.
Attempt blocked. Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Jordan Henderson.
Attempt missed. Jordan Henderson (Liverpool) right footed shot from outside the box is too high following a set piece situation.
Substitution, Liverpool. Philippe Coutinho replaces Raheem Sterling.
Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United) is shown the yellow card.
Foul by Rafael (Manchester United).
Luis Suarez (Liverpool) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Offside, Manchester United. Patrice Evra tries a through ball, but Robin van Persie is caught offside.
Attempt missed. Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United) right footed shot from outside the box is too high.
Attempt blocked. Juan Mata (Manchester United) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.