By Martyn Herman
Two Steven Gerrard penalties helped Liverpool embarrass bitter rivals Manchester United 3-0 at a stunned Old Trafford on Sunday to leave them breathing down the necks of Premier League leaders Chelsea.
Gerrard’s strikes either side of halftime put the visitors in control and Luis Suarez sealed only Liverpool’s second win at Old Trafford in nearly 10 years with a well-taken third.
Skipper Gerrard could have completed a first ever hat-trick of spot kicks in the Premier League but struck the foot of the post after Nemanja Vidic was red-carded for tripping Daniel Sturridge shortly before Suarez completed the rout.
With nine matches remaining to Chelsea’s eight, Liverpool’s run of five consecutive league wins has left them four points behind Jose Mourinho’s side who were beaten 1-0 at Aston Villa on Saturday having had two men sent off.
Liverpool, seeking a first English title since 1990 after long being in the shadow of United, could have won by an even bigger margin as they underlined the incredible turnaround in fortunes for English’s football’s two great north west rivals.
They ended last season 28 points behind champions United, who managed one shot on target on Sunday, but are now 14 clear of David Moyes’ side who now look almost certain to finish outside the Premier League’s top four for the first time.
“I got a bit cocky with the third penalty,” Gerrard told Sky Sports. “I’ve come here many times and been played off the park and but to come here and dominate like we did, we’re even a bit upset we didn’t get more goals.
“We’ve shown today we’re genuine contenders and we’ll fight to the end. I don’t think their defence has ever had a more difficult 90 minutes.”
Moyes conceded his side were now struggling to qualify for next season’s Champions League, unless they overturn a 2-0 deficit against Olympiakos in Wednesday’s last 16 tie and go on to win the trophy.
“It looks like we are a long way off it, we are well aware of that but we are going to keep fighting,” said the Scot.
Gerrard’s first penalty after 33 minutes followed a deliberate handball by Rafael that could have earned the defender a second yellow card, while his second shortly after the break was for a clumsy Phil Jones challenge on Joe Allen.
Both were dispatched with dead-eye accuracy to de Gea’s left, one high and one low.
Wayne Rooney forced Simon Mignolet into a fine save before halftime as United briefly sparked into life but both he and Robin van Persie cut frustrated figures throughout.
United’s day went from bad to worse when Vidic sent Sturridge sprawling in the area with a lunging tackle and though Gerrard could not beat David de Gea again Suarez’s neat finish after 84 minutes capped a dazzling Liverpool display.
Vidic, who is joining Inter Milan at the end of the season, now has four red cards against Liverpool in his United career, more than any other player against one opponent in the history of the Premier League.
Tomas Rosicky’s thunderous strike after 72 seconds was enough to secure a precious 1-0 derby victory for Arsenal over Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday to rekindle their Premier League title hopes.
Consecutive away league defeats had seen Arsenal lose ground at the top but they held off a spirited second-half revival by Spurs to move to join Liverpool on 62 points, four behind leaders Chelsea who were beaten at Aston Villa on Saturday.
Tottenham were caught on the counter-attack with only a minute on the clock and when the ball dropped to Rosicky 25 metres out on the right he lashed the ball first time into the top corner of Hugo Lloris’s goal.
The home side, whose season is fizzling out, raised their game after the break and Nacer Chadli and Emmanuel Adebayor both failed to convert decent chances.
Tottenham’s third consecutive defeat in all competitions left them fifth in the table, seven points behind fourth-placed Manchester City who have played three games less.