Wayne Rooney celebrates scoring the winning goal for Manchester United at Anfield
But better? Hardly.
United triumphed with a goal out of nothing, from a player in Wayne Rooney who believes he was born to make Liverpool miserable and from their first attempt on target to boot.
It was, in many ways, the perfect storm for Louis van Gaal who stumbled across a positive result just when he needed one.
Liverpool can consider themselves the victims of a smash and grab raid, promote the notion of a hard luck story, or they can focus more on their own persistent shortcomings.
There is no real need to pepper a team that struggles to score, and cannot keep clean sheets, with shots. Just wait for a set piece, watch Liverpool lose concentration and take advantage.
So it proved in the 78th minute as Danny Blind played a short corner to Juan Mata and he curled over a cross which found Marouane Fellaini craning his neck above a posse of red shirts.
A header thudded against the crossbar and rebounded kindly to Rooney, who was afforded all the time he needed to lash a volley into the roof of the net from six yards. It was the striker’s first goal at Anfield since January 2005 and he celebrated as such.
In an instant, the reality of how United had struggled until then to raise a glove, let alone land a blow, on their rivals mattered little.
The fact it had taken 30 minutes to even muster a shot, Ander Herrera’s miscued attempt was shanked harmlessly wide, and that only when Anthony Martial sought to stretch his legs and run at an opponent did they threaten any menace could be overlooked.
Winning is everything on days like this and also when the season edges into the final furlong. If Van Gaal was not weighed down with worry for once, then for Jurgen Klopp the true picture of what he has walked into becomes clearer by the week.
Rooney firing United into the lead on 78 minutes
He has taken 19 points from 14 games in charge since succeeding Brendan Rodgers and for all his qualities, his tenure will be defined by what he does in the transfer market not on the training pitch, It is back to the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate and right now the winner is clear.
Klopp had colourfully described the rivalry of this fixture as the “salt in the soup” when compared to other games, though the missing ingredient for Liverpool remains in attack.
For the second time in the space of four days, the sight of Steven Caulker being sent on as a makeshift forward at the death, when he was signed as defensive cover, highlighted the paucity of options.
Of course, Klopp has Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi and Danny Ings all out through injury, but it speaks volumes about Christian Benteke’s standing that even as things stand he is perceived to be no more than a £32.5m impact substitute.
Liverpool displayed more adventure, but the chances fell to players who do not have a history of scoring 10-goals a season, for example. With every missed opportunity, so the tension is ratcheted up a notch.
David de Gea was first called upon in the 10th minute when spreading himself on the edge of his own area to deny an Adam Lallana header after Lucas’ long pass had caught out Chris Smalling. Roberto Firmino pounced on the loose ball and shot narrowly wide.
The Spaniard remained the busier of the goalkeepers. Jordan Henderson shot across the face of United’s goal in the first half following a neat build up and Emre Can was thwarted after bursting beyond Smalling and shooting left footed at the start of the second.
Later, the German midfielder was denied again by De Gea as he repelled a rasping drive from 25 yards.
Yet Klopp, who saw Mamadou Sakho head James Milner’s tempting cross over, will hardly have been left scratching his head as to the reason why United prevailed.
Good goalkeepers win matches as do proven strikers. For all the modern game’s foibles, some basics still ring true.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Mignolet 6; Clyne 6, Sakho 6, Toure 6 (Benteke 81), Moreno 6; Henderson 6, Lucas 6, Can 6; Milner 6 (Caulker 90), Firmino 6, Lallana 6 (Ibe 76 6). Next Up: Exeter (h), Weds FA Cup.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): Dea Gea 8; Young 6 (Borthwick-Jackson 42 6), Smalling 6, Blind 6, Darmian 6; Schneiderlin 6, Fellaini 6; Lingard 6 (Mata 66 6), Herrera 6 (Memphis 72 6), Martial 7; Rooney 7. Booked: Smalling, Fellaini Goals: Rooney 78. Next Up: Southampton (h), Sat PL.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear).