Thanks to an impressive brace from Marcus Rashford, Manchester United staked its claim and a firm spot in second place by securing a 2-1 victory over fierce rivals Liverpool in the Premier League on Saturday.
Manchester United staked its claim as the best of the rest by securing a 2-1 victory over fierce rival Liverpool in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon.
A stunning first half blitz from Marcus Rashford secured United headed into the break with a two goal lead after punishing a lackluster Liverpool defense, and while Eric Bailly sent the ball into the back of his own net in the second half to give the Reds a lifeline - a victory could not be denied for Jose Mourinho's men.
The highly anticipated battle between the two northern powerhouses saw both Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp ring the changes at Old Trafford, with Paul Pogba and Jordan Henderson the most notable absentees for their respective sides.
As expected Manchester United opened proceedings by inviting pressure from Liverpool, however having struggled to pose an early question in the final third they allowed the home side to grow into the game.
It came at the ultimate price for the Reds as Rashford - who had already made his presence known on the left wing - caught Trent Alexander-Arnold napping with a sublime driving run, affording the England international time to cut back onto his right foot and curl a stunning strike into the far corner with 14 minutes on the clock.
Failing to head continuous warnings Liverpool's weakness on the right-side of defense was exploited with full effect as United's second came in similar vein to their first, with just a quarter of the game elapsed.
A ball over the top from David De Gea split the Reds' defense through the middle and allowed Romelu Lukaku to move the ball towards Juan Mata through on goal, his subsequent blocked shot fell kindly to Rashford who safely slotted the ball under Loris Karius.
Although the visitors had looked to respond in kind they were visibly thrown off balance by United's two early blows as despite dominating possession in the middle of the park, a lack of space and composure secured they fluffed their lines for much of the first 45.
While Virgil van Dijk's free header from close range resulted in Liverpool's only clear chance of the half, Mata could have inflicted the third and fatal blow when he was afforded acres of space on the six yard line to attempt an overhead kick which landed well wide of the upright moments prior to the break.
A Liverpool side intent on registering themselves on the scoreboard emerged from half time as they penned the home side in their defensive third for the opening 15 minutes, but a narrow and compact United stood firm - despite a number of penalty claims.
The congested United area offered little in the way of shots on goal and the Reds' breakthrough came as a result of continued persistence after Sadio Mane's whipped cross from the left hand side had Bailly in twist, as a hanging left foot sent the ball straight behind a hapless De Gea in the 66th minute.
With the visitors intent on securing an equaliser the game was balanced on a knife edge as proceedings moved into the final quarter. As the tempo rose, the desperateness from both sides hit another level - with an end-to-end affair leaving fans on either side of the rivalry on the edge of their seats.
Manchester United will now head into its crucial Champions League last 16 tie against Sevilla on Tuesday full of confidence after back-to-back league victories, whereas Liverpool will look to utilize the week break to bounce back against Watford in the Premier League next Saturday.