Manchester United in full sail as Liverpool routed at Old Trafford

Louis van Gaal’s side secure sixth straight victory with commanding performance

Manchester United 3 Liverpool 0

The indignities for Liverpool started with the banner "24 Years and Counting" that was unveiled in the old Scoreboard End before the kick-off and, by the time it was all done, it was not easy to imagine how long it might be before this proud old club are a contender for the league championship again. The team who bewitched us last season are no more. The deterioration is sharp and football is such an impatient business Brendan Rodgers will know his status as manager of the year does not excuse him scrutiny.

Nine months ago, Liverpool came here and, as Alex Ferguson recalled recently in his updated autobiography, "battered us", a 3-0 thumping that told us so much about the David Moyes era at Manchester United and the brilliant work Rodgers was apparently undertaking at the other end of the East Lancs Road.

What is happening now makes it feel like all that momentum has been lost. No team can defend this generously and expect to get away with it and the already considerable disappointment from being outdone by the old enemy will hardly be soothed by the knowledge this is not even a terribly good United side.

The difference is Louis van Gaal’s team are on an upward curve and, though the quality of football is still falling short, they have won six successive matches and have a 10-point advantage over Liverpool in the contest to qualify for next season’s Champions League. Chelsea are another eight points clear and, bearing in mind the story of last season’s title race, it is startling to see the way the team from Anfield have lost their way.

Their lack of confidence could be seen in the performances of Joe Allen and Dejan Lovren, to name but two, or the sudden loss of belief that afflicted Raheem Sterling whenever he had a chance to shoot. David de Gea, to give Sterling his due, showed us again he is a formidable goalkeeper. This was another wonderful performance from the Spaniard, not just because of his agility and extraordinary hand-to-eye co-ordination but the way his best moments came at key periods of the game.

The day might certainly have taken a different complexion if Sterling, set free by Adam Lallana, had been able to get the ball past De Gea with the game's first chance. The importance of that save has to be put into context of what happened next. Within a few seconds, United had worked the ball to Antonio Valencia on the right. So often over the last couple of years Valencia has frustrated the Old Trafford crowd with his reluctance to take on his man and penchant for drilling in low, aimless crosses. This time we saw the Valencia of 2011, slipping the ball through Allen's legs for a beautifully delivered nutmeg, taking out two other opponents in the same movement, and then having the presence of mind to pick out Wayne Rooney for the opening goal.

De Gea made another two outstanding saves at the start of the second half, denying Sterling again and then turning a shot from the substitute Mario Balotelli against the crossbar. A goal at that time would have given Liverpool the encouragement they could expose United's occasionally rusty defence again. Instead, United broke on the counter-attack and Lovren miskicked an attempt to clear Rooney's left-wing cross. Juan Mata played a disguised pass out to Robin van Persie on the right and he slotted in the third goal.

Liverpool are entitled to be aggrieved about the lack of an offside flag when Mata made it 2-0, five minutes before half-time, when the only possible explanation is the linesman did not notice Van Persie applying the faintest of touches from Ashley Young's cross before the Spaniard's stooping header at the far post. A bad call, however, does not excuse the poor defensive line, the absence of a challenge, or the way Alberto Moreno lost Mata at the far post.

For United, Valencia was excellent. Mata played with great intelligence and Van Persie is clearly over that rough spell when his place was seriously under threat.

There are still obvious shortcomings, such as that moment in the second half when Jonny Evans under-hit a backpass to De Gea and Sterling nipped in. James Wilson struggled to make an impact on the day when Van Gaal started the 19-year-old ahead of Radamel Falcao and Liverpool, despite their own failings, frequently got behind the home defence. The paradox of this match was De Gea was man of the match by some distance.

At the other end, Brad Jones had completely misread the trajectory of Rooney's shot for the first goal and almost comically dived the wrong way. It was inexplicable goalkeeping and the hard evidence, perhaps, why Rodgers has taken so long to remove Simon Mignolet from his team. Yet Liverpool's problems are not just consigned to goalkeeping issues.

(Guardian Service)