The North-West clash between England's two most successful clubs was decided by a tale of two strikers and highlighted just where Liverpool have to improve if they are to catch up with Manchester United.
Dimitar Berbatov was at his clinical and brilliant best as he scored a hat-trick. By contrast, Liverpool counterpart Fernando Torres barely had a clear-cut chance all afternoon.
Character may not be an issue for the Merseysiders as they fought back from 2-0 down only to concede again late on - but manager Roy Hodgson still has plenty to do to make his side feared once again.
In Torres they possess one of the most lethal strikers in world football but at the moment they are just not getting the best out of him.
He may not be at his sharpest but he was starved of opportunities at Old Trafford.
The Spain international is not the type of player who will create something out of nothing, he has to have a little bit of help but at the moment it is difficult to see where it will come from.
At Old Trafford manager Hodgson's tactics appeared to suggest he would have been happy with a draw and it was only when they were 2-0 down that he looked to attack.
Playing Steven Gerrard in a deeper role means he was too far away to offer the kind of assistance which has seen the pair dovetail so well in previous seasons.
And fielding two midfielders in Joe Cole and Maxi Rodriguez who are more inclined to drift inside left Liverpool crying out for width.
Glen Johnson provided threat down the right, although his distribution still leaves a lot to be desired, while new signing Paul Konchesky is either lacking in inclination or confidence to do the same down the left.
It meant the centre of the field became so congested that even if Gerrard or Raul Meireles got time on the ball, their options were limited.
Torres' only significant contribution of the first half came when he failed to mark Berbatov properly at a corner, allowing the Bulgarian to put his side in front with a straightforward header.
He did redeem himself by winning the penalty which allowed Gerrard to put his side back in the game but even then he declined the opportunity to shoot and there were slim pickings for him all afternoon.
United, in truth, were not that much better than their North-West rivals but what is markedly different about their approach is that they do commit men forward and play with width.
Their second goal was a case in point. When Nani chased down Darren Fletcher's raking crossfield ball and looked up there were three team-mates waiting in the middle.
A little piece of brilliance from Berbatov made the difference but it could easily have been Wayne Rooney or Ryan Giggs.
Faced with the same situation Rodriguez would have probably only had Torres to aim at.
Berbatov has been the revelation for United so far this season as he and Sir Alex Ferguson seem to have finally worked each other out.
United are, of course, more than a few more paces along the developmental road than Hodgson's side as some of their players have actually won a league championship.
But to reach that level Hodgson is going to have to work out a way of getting Liverpool to create more opportunities for their prized asset rather than relying on set-pieces.