LIVERPOOL // Barely mentioned when Liverpool spent £58 million (Dh346m) on the two most expensive strikers in their history in a matter of hours, Dirk Kuyt remains at Anfield.
Often overlooked, the Dutchman nonetheless emerged from the shadows to enter Liverpool folklore with a hat-trick to determine the match that matters most to them. While Andy Carroll debuted and Luis Suarez delighted, Kuyt struck.
Until yesterday, no Liverpool player had managed a treble against Manchester United since Peter Beardsley in 1990. Kenny Dalglish was manager then, and this result reinforced his claim to be granted an extended second spell in charge.
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United, meanwhile, were beaten for the second time in five days following Tuesday’s defeat by Chelsea.
The historic trio were all poached from close range. The first followed a remarkable display of trickery from Suarez, accepting the ball with his back to goal and twisting beyond defender after defender before his poked pass was touched over the line by Kuyt.
His second came gift-wrapped, too, although this time the assist was altogether unintentional. Suarez’s cross was met by Nani who obligingly headed it back towards his own goal, picking out Kuyt, who finished. Then he reacted to tap in after Edwin van der Sar parried Suarez’s free kick.
There was needle in the match too – Jamie Carragher was lucky to escape with just a booking after a reckless shin-high tackle on Nani which saw the winger depart on a stretcher, while United’s Rafael da Silva also benefited from referee Phil Dowd’s leniency after a high challenge on Lucas.
Dalglish, typically, maintained the win was a team effort. “They are all outstanding in different ways,” he said. “Dirk got three goals and he’ll get the headlines. Luis played fantastically well but the rest of them weren’t too far behind as well.
“Everybody that supports Liverpool has had a great day. The performance of the players, their attitude, their commitment, the pride they took in the football club and their own performance, that was the reason they got the result.”
It could have been more emphatic. Javier Hernandez’s injury-time goal was a footnote that deprived Liverpool of a clean sheet.
Earlier, Dimitar Berbatov clipped a post at 0-0; he was later thwarted by two goal-line clearances from Raul Meireles.
The Bulgarian departed with the match ball when Liverpool visited Old Trafford in September. The return fixture has brought a reversal. Kuyt, now, is the hat-trick hero, Liverpool the team with the scalp they wanted.
• Keeper There has been speculation linking Pepe Reina with a summer move to United. He will be glad he was on Liverpool's side yesterday as he barely had a save to make. B
• Defence When left-back Fabio Aurelio went off early on, it could have disrupted a reshuffled Liverpool back four, but they were composed in the face of a subdued United attack. B
• Midfield For once, Steven Gerrard was not the stand-out player for Liverpool. Lucas did a very effective job at the base of midfield and Raul Meireles was outstanding. B+
• Strikers Probably the easiest hat-trick Dirk Kuyt will score but they all count. He owes much of the credit to his partner Luis Suarez, who set up two. A
• Manager Sprang another surprise by switching from 5-3-2 to a 4-4-2 formation, or was it 4-2-3-1 ? Either way, Kenny Dalglish's tactics worked well. B+
Overall Grade: B+
• Keeper A bad day for most United players and Edwin van der Sar was no exception. Nutmegged for the first goal, exposed for the second and at fault for the third. C
• Defence More stark evidence of the importance of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. With their first-choice centre-backs missing, United were all over the place, especially early on. D
• Midfield Michael Carrick was virtually anonymous, Paul Scholes wayward and even Ryan Giggs was off-kilter. Missed the dribbling ability of Nani when he was taken off injured. C
• Strikers It says something that Javier Hernandez, the substitute, was probably United's best forward. Dimitar Berbatov was particularly off colour. C
• Manager Unusually Sir Alex Ferguson got his tactics wrong – perhaps another midfielder would have prevented his side being overrun. C
Overall Grade: C