Goals from Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford earned Erik ten Hag his first win as Manchester United manager as they brilliantly unsettled a lacklustre Liverpool side at Old Trafford on Monday night.
Having sat in lowly 19th before the game, the Red Devils produced a stunning performance filled with high-energy pressing and solid defending, resulting in great goals on the counter for Sancho and Rashford, though Mohamed Salah's consolation brought the score back to 2-1.
Set against the somewhat contrasting backdrop of fan protests against the Glazer family and the announcement of new midfield signing Casemiro, United started in fine fettle by stretching Liverpool's defence and nearly opened the scoring through Anthony Elanga, but his curler bounced back off the post.
United, without the dropped Harry Maguire and Cristiano Ronaldo, looked sharp in possession and hungry out of it and took the lead somewhat surprisingly but fully deserving of it.
Their fierce pressing was rewarded when Christian Eriksen combined with Elanga, who squared for Sancho. The winger feinted a few times to sit James Milner and goalkeeper Alisson down and fire into the opposite corner.
That strike was United's first goal scored by one of their players this season, while it was the seventh Premier League game in a row Liverpool have conceded the first goal.
Having netted nine times against United in their two league games last season, Liverpool were disappointingly tepid during the opening exchanges before they started to find their feet. Luis Diaz looked the most threatening of their attacking trident, impressing with his quick feet and direct running.
They nearly equalised in ridiculous fashion as a clumsy attempted clearance from Bruno Fernandes cannoned into Lisandro Martinez on the line, who averted the danger to avoid a calamitous own goal.
Having lost to Brighton and Brentford in their first two games, this was a much more promising display from United as they headed into half time with a 1-0 advantage which they would double at the start of the second half.
Liverpool had been sloppy in possession and another unforced error allowed substitute Anthony Martial to slip Rashford in behind the visitors' high line to cooly finish at Alisson's near post. The goal was briefly checked for offside but eventually given.
The Reds were stretched thin in their squad through injuries, with players like Thiago, Diogo Jota and Joel Matip all absent through injury and Darwin Nunez suspended. Their midfield lacked bite and both Jordan Henderson and James Milner looked particularly leggy and at sea.
However, the introductions of Fabinho and Fabio Carvalho helped Liverpool reduce the deficit. David de Gea had made a reflex stop to deny Carvalho's drive but it fell straight to Salah to beat the United goalie with a header at the near post.
United held out for the victory, which moves them above Liverpool and into 14th, while Liverpool remain without a victory down in 16th.
Manchester United vs Liverpool player ratings
1. Manchester United (4-2-3-1)
GK: David de Gea - 7/10 - Has had much tougher games against Liverpool in the past. Sharp saves from teammate Martinez and then Carvalho but couldn't deny Salah.
RB: Diogo Dalot - 7/10 - Played with intensity and didn't give Liverpool's attackers an inch, resulting in a yellow card.
CB: Raphael Varane - 8/10 - Came in for Maguire and had a good opening 45, aside for a booking for clattering Diaz. Provided the towering display at the back United have been crying out for.
CB: Lisandro Martinez - 7/10 - In the right place at the right time to clear Fernandes' botched clearance. Later nearly scored an own goal but was bailed out by De Gea. All action.
LB: Tyrell Malacia - 7/10 - A vibrant display from the left back, who earned smatterings of applause for the Old Trafford faithful for some committed challenges.
CM: Christian Eriksen - 6/10 - Played a role in the opener by getting Elanga in behind. Helped United keep the pressure on when they got high up the pitch.
CM: Scott McTominay - 7/10 - The maligned midfielder was assured and recovered possession well for United.
RW: Jadon Sancho - 8/10 - Showed such calm and poise to pick his moment and fire beyond Alisson. Created another chance and was United's most potent attacker.
AM: Bruno Fernandes - 6/10 - Never looked overly threatening but helped implement United's press. Butchered a scoring opportunity before being booked for simulation.
LW: Anthony Elanga - 7/10 - Would have been disappointed to hit the post but made amends soon after with the assist for Sancho. Probably deserved a few more minutes.
ST: Marcus Rashford - 7/10 - Had a couple of blocked shots in the first half. Scampered through to net his first goal since January.
SUB: Anthony Martial (46' for Elanga) - 7/10 - Made an immediate impact with the assist for Rashford.
SUB: Fred (71' for Sancho) - 6/10 - More energy from the bench which helped United see out the victory.
SUB: Cristiano Ronaldo (86' for Rashford) - N/A
SUB: Donny van de Beek (86' for Eriksen) - N/A
SUB: Aaron Wan Bissaka (86' for Dalot) - N/A
Manager: Erik ten Hag - 9/10 - Made some bold decisions with his starting XI and was totally vindicated. Showed United can be a threatening pressing side and will hope this win can kick-start his Old Trafford career.
2. Liverpool (4-3-3)
GK: Alisson - 6/10 - Couldn't get close to either of United's goals.
RB: Trent Alexander-Arnold - 5/10 - Bright run at the start of the second half was better from the right back, who had been suspect defensively earlier on.
CB: Joe Gomez - 5/10 - Reunited with Van Dijk in defence but not a display reminiscent of his excellent 2019/20 season.
CB: Virgil van Dijk - 5/10 - Stayed rooted as Sancho delayed his shot to perfection to score.
LB: Andy Robertson - 5/10 - Not a threat in attack and a bit overwhelmed in defence. Looks very short of the player he has shown himself to be.
CM: Harvey Elliott - 6/10 - A bright spark on an otherwise dark night for Liverpool with his neat passing and sparkling running.
CM: Jordan Henderson - 5/10 - Gave the ball away rather needlessly before United's first. Never looked assured as United swarmed high up the pitch.
CM: James Milner - 4/10 - Got sold a dream by Sancho for the goal and looked particularly leggy.
RW: Mohamed Salah - 7/10 - Had the joint-fewest touches of any player in the first half with 18 tied with De Gea. Brought Liverpool back into the game but not that influential.
ST: Roberto Firmino - 6/10 - Had one clear sight of goal from a cross which he air-kicked - a fitting image of Liverpool's evening.
LW: Luis Diaz - 6/10 - Looked to make things happen, drawing fouls with his elusive running. Just no discernible end product.
SUB: Fabinho (59' for Henderson) - 6/10 - Helped Liverpool assert more control.
SUB: Fabio Carvalho (73' for Milner) - 7/10 - Played his role in Salah's strike.
SUB: Kostas Tsimikas (85' for Robertson) - N/A
Manager: Jurgen Klopp - 5/10 - Slightly hamstrung by the number of injuries in his squad but could have hooked some of his out-of-form favourites.