LONDON (Reuters) – Premier League leaders Manchester United sealed a needlessly nervy 2-1 home win over Liverpool on Sunday after Robin van Persie and Patrice Evra put rival Luis Suarez in the shade.
United were dominant for the first hour but somehow let Liverpool get back in the game before holding on to stretch their advantage to 10 points ahead of second-placed Manchester City playing at Arsenal later (1600 GMT).
Dutchman Van Persie, English football’s in-form striker along with Liverpool’s Suarez, grabbed a first-half opener for United after Evra’s assist and the Frenchman’s header deflected in off an offside Nemanja Vidic to make it 2-0 after 54 minutes.
Substitute Daniel Sturridge pulled one back for eighth-placed Liverpool soon after and the visitors applied further late pressure but United hung on.
Liverpool have had to watch with horror over the last two decades as their big rivals undisputedly crowned themselves kings of the English game, trampling over the Anfield side’s legacy after they had shone the brightest in the 1970s and 80s.
The first half at Old Trafford, which followed United’s 2-1 win at Liverpool in September, suggested talk of the balance of power should be replaced by whisperings of the huge gulf in class such was the ineptitude of Brendan Rodgers’ side.
"Robin van Persie is different class. He produces moments in the game others can’t do and we are glad he is on our side," man of the match Danny Welbeck told Sky.
"We had our gameplan and it worked really well in the first half. They came into it more in the second half but we got the three points and showed our character."
United took the lead in the 19th minute after a strangely dour opening when Evra’s cross following a good move was swept in first time by van Persie in his inimitable style.
The Dutchman, who now has 17 league goals as the English top flight’s top scorer, had a decent chance to double his tally soon after but fired over with Liverpool’s defence all at sea.
Strike partner Welbeck, preferred to the in-form Javier Hernandez in the absence of the injured Wayne Rooney, justified his start with some good play although he should have done better twice in the first half when almost clean through.
Van Persie then had another chance just before the break as United overran their toothless north west neighbours but he chose a cheeky flick which Martin Skrtel cleared just before the line when a more meaty contact was needed.
Liverpool barely reached United’s penalty area in the first period with Steven Gerrard playing an awful through ball in one rare attack and Suarez being forced to send the ball high over the bar from a tight angle in another.
Uruguay’s Suarez, with 15 league goals this term, was often jeered by the home crowd in a forgettable performance where nothing went right but he took the sting out of any more vocal taunts by shaking Evra’s hand before kick off.
Suarez failed to do so last season at Old Trafford after serving an eight-game ban for racially abusing the Frenchman.
The visitors, with new striker Sturridge coming off the bench at halftime, were hampered by the right-footed Glen Johnson’s attacking intentions being blunted by being played on the left and midfielder Lucas operating too deeply.
However, the arrival of the lively Sturridge for his Premier League debut after joining from Chelsea and the fact they went into the break just 1-0 down boosted Liverpool’s confidence in the second half with Lucas taken off.
It was soon dampened when Van Persie’s free kick was headed goalwards by Evra, prolific for a left back with four goals this term, and the ball deflected off team mate Vidic before bulging the net. No Liverpool players appealed for offside but replays showed the Serbian was ahead of their backline.
Liverpool’s defence and especially Johnson had been found wanting for the goal but Sturridge dug them half out of a hole when he struck after 57 minutes when Gerrard’s piledriver could only be palmed into his path by goalkeeper David De Gea.
England’s Sturridge then missed three decent chances as United boss Alex Ferguson fretted in the dugout and visiting Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho, scouting United ahead of their Champions League clash, raised an eyebrow beneath the hood he used to shield himself from the cold and the cameras.
As it was, United closed out the win without further alarm.
(Reporting by Mark Meadows; editing by Toby Davis)
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