x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Sturridge scores as Liverpool beat Manchester United in Premier League

England striker continues early-season goal-scoring form with only goal of game at Anfield, reports Richard Jolly.

Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge celebrates after scoring against Manchester United at Anfield. Peter Powell / EPA
Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge celebrates after scoring against Manchester United at Anfield. Peter Powell / EPA

No wonder the cameras were trained on the technical areas. A manager elevated into one of the great jobs in world football eyed a breakthrough win. He got one, too.

But not that manager. For David Moyes, the gruelling start to the season has gotten worse. Transfer-market setbacks have been allied with a demanding fixture list. The emphatic victory at Swansea offered an illusion of a seamless transition. A return of one point from a possible six in a deflating week against major rivals gives a very different impression.

It added spice that an old Evertonian’s first defeat was inflicted by Liverpool. In the broader scheme of things, however, that is a curio. The reality is that Brendan Rodgers secured the biggest victory of his reign at Anfield. Last season, Liverpool were flat-track bullies, beating only one of the contenders, Tottenham Hotspur.

“We drew too many of the big games and we lost home and away to Manchester United,” Rodgers said. Not this year: that record has already been transformed.

Twelve months ago, the talk was of the Rodgers revolution. Amid a slow start, it rather backfired. Instead, Liverpool have evolved to the point where they no longer have an inferiority complex against the best and where, too, they have players capable of defeating them.

The assumption all summer has been that both clubs required a marquee signing. If this reinforced United’s need for an injection of quality, the paradox may be that Liverpool, despite starting from a lower base after finishing 28 points adrift of their rivals, may not. Rodgers’ biggest buy in the starting 11 was the £12 million striker Daniel Sturridge. The arch-predator was also the match winner, finding space in the six-yard box to head home.

As Liverpool, to borrow a phrase from their anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, have walked through a storm, Sturridge has been the silver lining to a cloud. Luis Suarez’s suspension for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic has been a boon to Sturridge and not the blow anticipated to Liverpool. The bare facts are that, in the eight games the Uruguayan has missed so far, the Englishman has scored 10 times. Suarez is eligible again for the next meeting of Merseyside and Manchester, in the Capital One Cup, but Rodgers has less need to thrust him back into the team.

Sturridge lends pace and potency. On his 24th birthday, he made Rio Ferdinand, a decade his senior, look his age. He also had others delving deep into the record books. He became the first Liverpool player to score in the opening three league games of the season since Robbie Fowler 19 years ago; it was also the last occasion Liverpool began with three wins.

Now they find themselves five points ahead of United; it is as though they have been transported back to the 1980s. Sturridge apart, the key was their only player old enough to remember their golden era. Steven Gerrard grew up a Liverpool fan during their days of dominance. Perhaps the greatest player in the club’s history has never been able to replicate the domestic achievements of his predecessors in the Anfield midfield. Even at 33, however, he has the power and presence to control a midfield against the reigning champions.

He is the constant. For others, beating United was a novel feeling. Indeed, for some, pulling on a Liverpool shirt will be. The next through Anfield’s revolving door will be Chelsea winger Victor Moses, borrowed for the season, and defenders Tiago Ilori and Mamadou Sakho. Whereas United have unwanted continuity, Liverpool’s summer makeover is proceeding at great pace.

So fast, indeed, that Martin Skrtel’s reward for helping them keep a clean sheet may be an exile from the team. With two centre-backs lined up and Kolo Toure hoping to return to fitness, the revival in the Slovakian’s fortunes may be brief indeed. But whereas last season he was dropped from a position of weakness, this year he can be omitted in an altogether stronger situation.

“It’s a nice problem to have,” Rodgers added, having wrestled with rather nastier problems. Deflecting questions about a title challenge are something he never had to do last season. It is a sign of how things have changed.

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Liverpool A performance of two halves. Daniel Sturridge was superb as they attacked in the first half. The defence held firm after the break. 8/10

Manchester United David Moyes sounded strangely pleased, but they began poorly, lacked creativity and rarely looked like scoring. 5/10

Man of the match Steven Gerrard – At his dominant best. The captain remains crucial for Liverpool.

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