Juan Mata struck twice, including a sublime volley, for Manchester United in a 2-1 Premier League victory over Liverpool who had Steven Gerrard sent off for a stamp at Anfield on Sunday.
Mata’s neat finish put United ahead on 14 minutes before Liverpool halftime substitute Gerrard was shown the red card for a challenge on Ander Herrera after just 48 seconds on the pitch.
Spaniard Mata’s stunning left-foot volley put United 2-0 up in the 59th before Daniel Sturridge pulled a goal back for Liverpool 10 minutes later.
Wayne Rooney then missed the chance to add a third for United when Simon Mignolet saved his injury-time penalty.
Fourth-placed United have 59 points from 30 matches, five more than Liverpool in fifth.
Leaders Chelsea will seek to regain their six-point advantage over Manchester City at Hull City later on Sunday, while struggling Queens Park Rangers host Everton.
“I think it’s my best game in a United shirt,” Mata told Sky Sports. “The second goal has to be up there with my best. After Steven Gerrard was sent off we needed a second goal because they pushed us to the end.
“It was important for me. The last few months I’ve not had the best moment. It is the manager who decides but I’m happy today.”
United, with testing games to come against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, needed to build on last weekend’s 3-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur to press their challenge for a Champions League place.
Liverpool, unbeaten in the league since their 3-0 defeat by United at Old Trafford in mid-December, fell behind after an explosive start when Herrera’s defence-splitting pass was collected by Mata who slid the ball past Mignolet.
United looked to be in control but Liverpool cranked the tempo up with midfielder Adam Lallana firing agonisingly wide after a sweeping counter-attack.
Gerrard replaced Lallana at halftime but the former England captain clattered into Mata and then stamped on Herrera in a follow-up challenge.
United defender Phil Jones was lucky to avoid being sent off for a clumsy tackle on Philippe Coutinho and the visitors made the extra man count when Angel Di Maria’s lobbed pass was met first time by Mata who scissor-kicked past Mignolet.
Sturridge’s first time shot then raised Liverpool’s hopes but United stayed on top.