Liverpool suffered a 3-0 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday, to leave the Reds 10 points behind their bitter rivals in the race for fourth.
However the result truly only told half the story, with United goalkeeper David De Gea putting in a man of the match performance to deny Raheem Sterling and Mario Balotelli on six seperate occasions.
Brendan Rodgers dropped Simon Mignolet going into the clash at Old Trafford in favour of Brad Jones, but the Australian keeper had little to do other than to pick the ball out of his net on three seperate occasions.
It was Liverpool who began the brighter, and should have been in front on 11 minutes. Adam Lallana – starting having not been brought off the bench during the midweek draw with Basel – played a superb through pass towards Sterling, but the England man saw his tame finish saved by the legs of David De Gea.
Within 25 seconds the Reds were behind, as Antonio Valencia escaped the challenge of Joe Allen far too easily before teeing up Wayne Rooney. Having lost his marker Philippe Coutinho, Rooney cooly slotted the ball home from the edge of the box.
The Reds made a decent response however, with Steven Gerrard forcing De Gea into a more comfortable save from the edge of the box. The next clear opening fell to Sterling once again, but again the Man United goalkeeper denied him, this time at the near post after Sterling had wriggled past Phil Jones in the box.
And the Reds were then hit with a sucker punch just two minutes before half time. Ashley Young’s left wing cross got the slightest touch off of Robin van Persie, and Juan Mata was free to head into an empty net at the back post – although replays showed the Spaniard was clearly offside.
Liverpool looked by no means out of the contest still however, and should have pulled a goal back within five minutes of the restart.
Sterling was denied by De Gea for the third time in succession, when latching onto a short backpass by Jonny Evans. The 20-year-old tried to go round the goalkeeper, who stood up until the last moment and saved the shot with his legs.
Brendan Rodgers had introduced Mario Balotelli as a half time substitute, and the Italian had the moment to halve the deficit when he connected with Sterling’s cutback well. But once again, it was De Gea who came out on top, tipping the striker’s effort onto the crossbar.
And to rub salt into the wounds, Robin van Persie made it 3-0 on the counter-attack when teed up by Juan Mata, after Dejan Lovren had made a mess of Wayne Rooney’s cross.
Still the Reds had opportunities to score, with De Gea saving low from Balotelli after Jordan Henderson had cut the ball back, and then once again in a one on one situation, after substitute Lazar Markovic had set Balotelli clear with six minutes remaining.
On another day it could have quite easily been 3-0 to Liverpool, but the difference in the sides was there for all to see – United boasted a selection of proven match winners, whilst the Reds looked vulnerable at the back and toothless when the chances came their way.