WELL at least there is a consolation for Manchester United after this devastating derby drubbing – their scouting department is clearly on the ball.
Because it was Cody Gakpo and Darwin Nunez – two United targets nabbed by Liverpool – who inflicted a defeat which comprehensively ended Erik ten Hag’sslim prospects of winning the Premier League title.
In a devastating seven-minute burst either side of half-time, Dutch forward Gakpo struck twice, either side of a header from Uruguayan striker Nunez, and Jurgen Klopp’s resurgent side moved ominously to within one place of the Champions League spots.
Mo Salah broke Liverpool’s Premier League scoring record by hammering a double of his own to complete United’s misery, then Nunez added his second as United were crushed and utterly humiliated.
There had been fanciful talk of Ten Hag’s side aiming for a quadruple in recent weeks, but those ambitions have certainly been reduced after the heaviest defeat in the history of this fixture.
And it was the sort of thrashing which may well have a wide-ranging effect on the remainder of United’s campaign.
This was only their second defeat in 21 games, and they had secured their first trophy in six years the previous weekend, but the scale of the victory and the nature of their sudden collapse was deeply worrying.
Rampant Liverpool – returning to the vintage form of the Klopp era – chalked up a fifth straight Premier League clean sheet and are now just three points behind fourth-placed Tottenham with a game in hand.
Even during a poor season for Klopp’s side, they have still managed to roll over for some top sides at Anfield – Newcastle, Manchester City and now this thumping success over a club they enjoy beating more than any other opponent.
Dutchman Gakpo, a long-term United target signed by Liverpool from PSV Eindhoven for £37m in January, was excellent.
He has four goals in his last five Premier League appearances and is making a superb early impact.
Nunez, who took more time to settle, is coming good now with four goals in as many appearances.
Liverpol had already been heartened by defeats for top-four rivals Spurs and Newcastle on Saturday, so this was a perfect weekend for them.
Klopp’s side began with an aggressive intent, and a full-throated Anfield behind them, but the first save was Alisson’s – the Reds keeper pushing wide a curling shot from his fellow Brazilian Antony.
With their midfield general, and Carabao Cup final goalscorer, Casemiro struggling to find his feet early on, Liverpool were dominant in midfield.
Lisandro Martinez, Ten Hag’s tenacious little Scrappy-Doo, beat Nunez to a dangerous Andy Robertson cross, then appeared to get away with a forearm to the face of Salah.
But while Klopp’s men were all about manic energy, for a while, United were actually the more measured side.
They began to emerge as an attacking force, with their full-backs to the fore.
Diogo Dalot’s centre picked out Bruno Fernandes, who sent a header wide across goal, and Luke Shaw’s diagonal pass released Marcus Rashford, who duffed a volley when he might have taken a touch and scored.
Fabinho was booked for tripping Rashford and stopping a United counter-attack – and from the resulting Fernandes free-kick, Casemiro headed into the net but was clearly offside.
And a minute later, Liverpool seized the lead.
Alisson rolled it out to Andy Robertson whose artful pass caught United square and released Gakpo, who cut inside Raphael Varane and drilled a fierce shot inside the far post.
It was Liverpool’s first shot on target and it sent Klopp’s men into the interval with their tails up just as United had looked like taking control.
United had come from behind to defeat Barcelona and West Ham in the previous 11 days – but Liverpool were straight back at them and doubled their lead within two minutes of the restart.
If the first was disappointing from United’s point of view, the second was shambolic.
Shaw ceded possession with a loose pass and a succession of United players failed to make tackles as the visitors worked it to the left, where Harvey Elliott rifled in a centre for Nunez to nod home from close range.
United’s collapse was complete a couple of minutes later, with a stunning Liverpool break.
Gakpo’s pass released Salah down the left and the Egyptian rinsed Martinez, who ended on his backside, before his return pass saw Gakpo net with an angled shot.
United howled for a penalty when a scrambling Alisson appeared to trip Fernandes but ref Andy Madley and his VAR were unmoved.
Salah rammed home the fourth off the underside of the bar after a Gakpo pass had deflected off Scott McTominay.
Fifteen minutes from time, United failed to clear a Trent Alexander-Arnold free-kick and when Jordan Henderson floated in a centre Nunez nutted home his second.
United had been cut to ribbons and were losing their heads, McTominay escaping with a yellow card for a horrible challenge on Gakpo, Shaw – who had a shocking second half – getting involved with Nunez and Fernandes showing plenty of all-round petulance.
So it was no real surprise when Liverpool netted their sixth – Salah breaking Robbie Fowler’s record with his 129th Premier League strike for the Reds.
And sub Roberto Firmino fired the seventh to send The Kop into raptures, United’s defence a shambles again as the Brazilian converted a Salah cross.