Premier League - Manchester United hold off Liverpool to stay seven clear

Premier League, Old Trafford - Manchester United 2 (Van Persie 19, Vidic 54) Liverpool 1 (Sturridge 57)

Manchester United strengthened their position atop the Premier League with a 2-1 victory over perennial rivals Liverpool.

Star striker Robin van Persie opened the scoring on 19 minutes with a deft finish as Sir Alex Ferguson's men took full control against their toothless opponents.

The half-time introduction of Daniel Sturridge helped Brendan Rodgers's side finish the contest in much stronger shape, but by the time he scored his first league goal for his new club, Nemanja Vidic had already doubled the home side's advantage.

Liverpool have not beaten a team in top-half of the table all season and that stat remains despite pushing hard for an equaliser as United sat back and held on for all three points.

The home side wasted little time taking control of the contest, with their guests restricted to the occasional fleeting stride forward on the counter.

Liverpool full-backs Andre Wisdom and Glen Johnson stood strong to keep United’s wide approach at bay, however, and it took a more central approach for the league leaders to break the deadlock.

With Shinji Kagawa and Ashley Young drifting inside to support the impressive Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick, gaps were created for Patrice Evra and Rafael to exploit, and the former created the opener on 19 minutes.

With plenty of space on the left, Evra collected Cleverley’s pass and fizzed in a delightful low cross which Van Persie masterfully placed across both Daniel Agger and Pepe Reina, into the far bottom corner.

The talismanic Dutchman almost had two first-time finishes in seven minutes when Young came inside from the right to put a central through pass onto his feet, but this time the strike flew over the crossbar.

A short Joe Allen backpass almost gifted Danny Welbeck United’s second, only for Agger to make a vital block, and the Dane’s defensive partner Martin Skrtel came to the rescue on the stroke of half-time.

Taking down Carrick’s raking pass magnificently, Rafael eased beyond Johnson and crossed low for Van Persie, whose audacious back-heel was goal-bound but for Skrtel’s last-ditch block.

Sturridge’s introduction in place of Lucas at the interval helped give Suarez the support he lacked up top, but not before the deficit was doubled.

Skrtel was booked for bringing down Welbeck just outside his own area, and the poorly-marked free-kick was headed towards goal by Evra, coming off Vidic last.

The cushion did not last long, as three minutes later Steven Gerrard forced David De Gea into action which left Sturridge free to tap home the rebound following the Spaniard’s strong parry.

Kagawa had a beautiful curling drive well stopped by Reina on 64 but from there the away side turned the screw.

However, no matter how close Suarez, Sturridge and fellow sub Fabio Borini came to the United goal, the fight-back from two down could not be completed and a more defensive United held on for the win.

MAN OF THE MATCH

Michael Carrick - Manchester United: At the heart of United's early control, and important as they looked to shut up shop in the second half.

PLAYER RATINGS

MANCHESTER UNITED: De Gea 7; Rafael 8, Vidic 7, Ferdinand 6, Evra 7; Carrick 9, Cleverley 8, Kagawa 7, Welbeck 8, Young 6, Van Persie 8. Subs: Jones 6, Valencia 6, Smalling 5.

LIVERPOOL: Reina 7, Wisdom 7, Johnson 7, Agger 7, Skrtel 7, Lucas 5, Gerrard 6, Allen 4, Downing 5, Sterling 5, Suarez 7. Subs Henderson 5, Sturridge 8, Borini 6.

MATCHCAST: FULL COMMENTARY AND STATS