The sort of day to salute a legend, and the sort of day to anoint a new hero.
It was not, though, as it was supposed to be, Andy Carroll, the club record signing who made his debut for the last 17 minutes. It was not that grizzled old dog of war Dirk Kuyt, scorer of a hat-trick of tap-ins. This was Kenny Dalglish’s birthday party. And it was Luis Suarez’s coming of age.
The Uruguayan may not have scored – though George Sefton, the voice of Anfield, rather kindly awarded him the first – but he chose this stage to give the kind of display that forges reputations. The sort of display that makes wearing Dalglish’s old shirt that little bit easier.
Suarez was a tornado, twisting through United’s patchwork rearguard, wreaking havoc wherever he went.
He teed up the opener, beating Rafael, Chris Smalling and Wes Brown before clipping the ball underneath Edwin van der Sar. It would have crossed the line; Kuyt, a man who clearly does not care a jot for narrative, made sure.
The league leaders had been warned. As early as the fourth minute, Liverpool’s intricate passing had fashioned an opportunity for Suarez, his touch from Raul Meireles’s low cross too delicate to beat Edwin Van Der Sar. Maxi Rodriguez scuffed one wide, Chris Smalling was called upon to block Kuyt at the last.
They had gone close twice themselves – Dimitar Berbatov striking the post from Wayne Rooney’s knockdown, Meireles clearing a Smalling header off the line – but, with Anfield in raucous voice, their resistance crumbled. They had nobody to blame but themselves.
Nani, a peripheral figure, particularly.
It was the Portuguese who headed Suarez’s cross back across the six yard box, inviting Kuyt to stoop and head home. He had contributed little else, but that error heralded five minutes which did much to draw their own sting.
First, the Portuguese was felled brutally by Jamie Carragher, rising from his prone state to exhort referee Phil Dowd to send the defender off. A yellow card and a quarrel followed, tempers flaring. Nani himself was stretchered off, replaced by Javier Hernandez.
The aftershocks, though, continued. Rafael da Silva launched a two-footed tackle at Lucas; Martin Skrtel raced 40 yards to berate the Brazilian.
The Slovak was booked, so too the young United defender, fortunate, like Carragher, not to be dismissed.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, though they improved in the second half, did so in a game which was a shadow of the full-blooded, thunderous clash which went before that spell. Berbatov saw an effort cleared off the line by Meireles – with a suspicion of handball – but, while they dominated possession, they had little purpose. Liverpool, by contrast, needed just one opportunity to settle the tie.
Suarez whipped a beautiful free kick round the United wall, van der Sar could not hold it and there was Kuyt, tapping home, milking the applause of the Kop.
It was time to enjoy the spoils: Dalglish, 60 on Friday, was serenaded with Happy Birthday, and Carroll was introduced, to delighted applause. He won his first header, towering above Smalling, emphatically.
United, even at their Lazarus-like best, could not recover. Hernandez headed a consolation in injury time, but it was not celebrated. Their title hopes hang in the balance, their response to this set-back crucial. Liverpool can feel they have done their bit to prevent their rivals reaching that crucial 19th championship. Of as much solace will be that Suarez will be around to haunt United