United finally buried their Liverpool hoodoo with a hard-fought victory over their bitter rivals to return to the Premier League summit. While the trophies have continued to flow into Old Trafford, the Liverpool Reds have had the bragging rights in recent derbies with three wins out of three. But after an early Fernando Torres goal, United battled back to take the three points with a customary Wayne Rooney
strike and an unlikely winner from Ji-Sung Park's head. Dimitar Berbatov was left on the bench for United as Sir Alex Ferguson reverted to the five-man midfield, which has proved so fruitful for the Reds this season. However, Old Trafford was stunned when the visitors took the lead in the fifth minute. Michael Carrick lost the ball on the halfway line and Torres freed Steven Gerrard surging forward with a precise back-heel. As Gerrard fed Dirk Kuyt, Torres continued his run and the Spanish star filled the massive gap between Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville to power a header past Edwin van der Sar. The lead lasted just five minutes as Javier Mascherano pulled Antonio Valencia back as he entered the area - the infringement started outside - resulting in a penalty for United and sparking a series of rows; one involving Neville and Jamie Carragher, another a finger-jabbing effort between Ferguson and Rafael Benitez. Amid all this, Torres kicked a huge lump of grass away from the penalty spot but the incident was missed by referee Howard Webb. The petulance worked to an extent as Rooney's spot-kick was saved by Pepe Reina but the rebound fell straight back to the United striker, who tucked home his 33rd goal of the season. Torres was fired up and was booked for a late tackle on Park by the touchline. A curling cross from Nani just evaded Rooney and bounced through to Reina as the contest continued to bubble. Reina pushed a long-distance Nani effort round the post, although it appeared to be going wide anyway. There was an audible intake of breath the first time Torres ran at Nemanja Vidic with memories of the Serb's three red cards in his last three games against Liverpool but he half-stopped his nemesis before Patrice Evra piled in with a ball-and-all tackle that put Torres on the deck. Carrick fouled Torres at the start of the second period, although Liverpool could not make anything of the free-kick. Then, in front of Fabio Capello, Glen Johnson misread a Rooney pass, allowing Nani to fly into the Liverpool box, although Jamie Carragher had anticipated the situation and snuffed out the danger. Chances were at a premium but when a good opportunity fell to Park, the South Korean made the most of it. Emiliano Insua seemed to have Darren Fletcher covered when the Scot received possession on the right wing, but Gary Neville's overlapping run created doubt in the full-back's mind. As the Argentinian full-back edged to his left, Fletcher spotted his chance, curling over a superb cross which, as Rooney and Carragher tussled and tugged, Park flew through a crowd of bodies to head past Reina. Fletcher and Kuyt squared up to each other in central midfield, then Vidic was booked for clattering into Torres from behind. Alberto Aquilani replaced Kuyt with 17 minutes remaining, Babel being introduced for Rodriguez shortly afterwards. Ferguson called on the experience of Ryan Giggs 12 minutes from time as the veteran took over from Nani. The substitutions continued as Yossi Benayoun replaced Lucas, the clock ticking on towards full-time with no equaliser in sight. Rooney fired just wide of the near post before Paul Scholes replaced Park, then Torres failed to convert a glorious chance. Gerrard's cross rolled into his path just eight yards out but the striker mishit his shot horribly and Benayoun's tame header was saved.