Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was sent off 38 seconds after coming on as a half-time substitute as Manchester United retained their grip on a top-four place with a vital win at Anfield.
Gerrard was introduced for Adam Lallana at the start of the second half with United deservedly leading through Juan Mata’s early goal – but was gone almost as quickly after following up a thunderous tackle on the goalscorer with a reckless reaction to a challenge with a clear stamp on Ander Herrera.
It was inexcusable behaviour from a player of Gerrard’s experience, having just been handed the responsibility by manager Brendan Rodgers of getting an underperforming Liverpool side back into the game.
Mata emphasised the folly of Gerrard’s red card when he added a second with a sensational volley just before the hour to confirm United’s superiority in a game that confirmed the impression that manager Louis van Gaal is now getting the sort of performances and results he demands.
Daniel Sturridge pulled a goal back to give Liverpool hope of an unlikely comeback but the visitors were never seriously threatened again and could even afford the luxury of Wayne Rooney seeing an injury-time penalty saved by Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet.
United built on last Sunday’s impressive 3-0 win against Tottenham to extend their lead to five points over Liverpool, who are a place behind in fifth.