United on a roll

Terrific trio. Manchester United's goal-scorers Wes Brown (left), Cristiano Ronaldo (middle) and Nani celebrate after their team's victory.-AP Terrific trio. Manchester United's goal-scorers Wes Brown (left), Cristiano Ronaldo (middle) and Nani celebrate after their team's victory.

It says everything about United�s dominance, with Wayne Rooney at the hub of just about everything, that Edwin van der Sar managed to go the entire game without getting a single scuff of mud on his shorts, writes Daniel Taylor.

There is always one moment in every season when, for the team that are going to finish as champions, everything clicks, the worrying stops, all the hard work comes together and everyone knows it is going to be a year to remember. For Manchester United, this was quite conceivably that moment, another potentially decisive day to go with Steve Bruce's header against Sheffield Wednesday, Eric Cantona's volley at Newcastle, Andy Cole's lob against Tottenham and all the seminal moments in the portfolio of Sir Alex Ferguson's favourite Premier League wins.

That is not to say Ferguson will underestimate the strength of Chelsea's desire to prolong the argument. Yet, the pity for United is that Javier Mascherano's buffoonery, and the debate it conjures up about the behaviour of modern day footballers, will inevitably divert attention away from what was, in essence, a performance of authentic brilliance. Liverpool were dismantled from A to Z, losing to Wes Brown's first goal in almost three years, Cristiano Ronaldo's 34th of the season and a scorching effort from Nani on a day when Mascherano registered his nomination for Clot of the Year, acting as if he thought Sky should have redefined the coming together of England's top four clubs as "Surly Sunday."

Liverpool needed all the help they could get because, at times, they were abject. The frenetic pace of these matches always ensures a higher number of misplaced passes than usual but, even so, Benitez will be alarmed by his team's inability to keep possession and, when they did have the ball, the lack of gumption or wit to do anything with it. It was bewildering, for example, to see Steven Gerrard misdirecting so many passes. Sadly for the manager, the same cannot be said of some of Gerrard's team-mates as they disappeared to the edges. It says everything about United's dominance, with Wayne Rooney at the hub of just about everything, that Edwin van der Sar managed to go the entire game without getting a single scuff of mud on his shorts.

Ferguson was not exaggerating when he said Rooney and Ronaldo could have finished with hat-tricks. The manager has been frustrated by his team's profligacy recently but on this occasion it scarcely mattered from the moment, on 34 minutes, when Rooney crossed from the left and Reina and Martin Skrtel both failed to take decisive action. Brown has never been one for half-heartedness, rising between them to score with a brave header.

The defining moment of the game arrived 10 minutes later. Mascherano's offences were numerous and it was revealing that none of his team-mates seemed too sympathetic. On the contrary, Gerrard and Xabi Alonso looked tempted to grab him by the throat.

They probably knew how much Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes would enjoy the extra space in midfield, the only surprise being that the home side waited until the 79th minute before scoring again.

Again, Reina will wince when he sees the replays, Ronaldo glancing in a header from Nani's corner as the goalkeeper flapped at thin air again. Then the piece de resistance: Nani ducking between Gerrard and Skrtel and unleashing an unstoppable shot to crown United's best performance of the season.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008