It was hard not to imagine, as Marcus Rashford marked a rare league start with two clinically-taken goals, that this game was a watershed moment for a forward who, while still barely out of his teenage years, appeared to be heading nowhere fast at Old Trafford.
Mourinho players are a most definite type, faces that do not fit tend to quickly become forgotten figures under his leadership, and the fact Rashford had started less than half of his team’s league games before the weekend did not augur well.
Further, the signing of Alexis Sanchez in January had raised additional question marks over whether the young Mancunian had a long-term future at his boyhood club or, of more immediate concern, whether he was a given to be part of Gareth Southgate’s squad in Russia this summer.
Both questions were, surely, answered inside 24 devastating minutes in this showpiece of the Premier League calendar, as Rashford plundered two goals of devastating efficiency.
It was a stunning riposte - both by Mourinho who responded to heightened speculation about the player’s future by handing him his first league start since St Stephen’s Day - and by Rashford who showed a maturity beyond his years to deliver on the big stage.
“I think it’s his mentality,” said teammate Jesse Lingard, explaining how Rashford has dealt with his recent omissions.
He has got good people around him, and they always assure him he is in a good place at the moment. And what kid wouldn’t want to be at Man United at the moment? It’s a big club with big players and for players like Marcus it’s going to be tough to start every game but once you are on the pitch you have to make an impact and maybe next game you will be playing. But you’ve got to always work hard and he does that.
“Against any team he can do that, he has that level of confidence to do it, so if he can keep improving, keep doing what he is doing, the sky is the limit for him.”
Like Rashford, Lingard has found opportunities limited this season, although the 25-year-old has managed to start one more game than his colleague and friend.
But despite the limited opportunities, Lingard’s eight goals put him behind only Anthony Martial, by one, and 14-goal Romelu Lukaku in United’s league scoring table.
“It has been one of my best seasons, I have scored goals and I have helped the team,” added Lingard.
“And all I can do is score goals.
You are going to get people with different opinions but as long as I keep scoring goals and help the team, that is all that matters to my teammates and the manager.
Excellent as Rashord’s finishing was, both goals owed much, if not everything, to Lukaku who terrorised the Liverpool defence and, in particular, the outclassed Dejan Lovren.
It was a performance which underlined the argument of Lukaku supporters — Mourinho primary amongst them — that his game is about far more than goals.
The Belgian came into the Liverpool game with 23 to his name this season, but just one against a team in the top 10 of the Premier League table on Saturday morning.
“His confidence is brilliant,” said Rashford of Lukaku. “His determination to improve is the biggest feature I’ve picked up from his game.
He’s always wanting to improve. He always wants to better himself. When he’s doing it, it pushes others to be better. It is a massive boost to have him at the club.
A bizarre own goal by Eric Bailly midway through the second half gave Liverpool hope, and ensured a grandstand finish that was in such stark contrast to the insipid goalless draw in the corresponding Anfield fixture between these clubs earlier this season.
An increased entertainment factor was of little consolation to manager Jurgen Klopp, however, as he witnessed his team’s defensive frailties yet again, not only in Lovren but also young full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold who was badly beaten for Rashford’s first goal.
It was a defensive performance which, not for the first time, had the television pundits plunging a verbal dagger into Klopp, his defence and Liverpool’s overall approach - not that the manager was concerned.
“I don’t get it. If you wouldn’t tell me, I would never watch it,” said Klopp. “That makes absolutely no difference to me, what people say. What did they say? They said we defended bad? If somebody said it was only Trent’s mistake then the guy who said that has no idea about football and I wouldn’t listen. Dejan in the challenge could be different but it’s difficult.
“Around, everything went wrong because we were not there for the second ball and then it’s Trent. I have to see it back again.
When I saw the goal, for me Rashford did brilliantly and exactly at the moment where Trent is ready for the challenge, he made a cutback.
“It’s the perfect striker movement, we cannot defend everything. It’s easy afterward to talk about it.
“They (pundits) don’t give us points, they don’t cost us points, they are only the deliverer of good and bad messages, that’s all.”
But on Saturday, the best message of all came from Marcus Rashford.
De Gea 7; Valencia 7, Smalling 7, Bailly 8, Young 7; McTominay 7, Matic 7, Mata 7 (Lingard 88); Rashford 8 (Fellaini 69, 7), Lukaku 7, Sánchez 6 (Darmian 90).
Lindelof, Carrick, Romero, Shaw.
Karius 6; Alexander-Arnold 5 (Wijnaldum 80, 5), Lovren 5, Van Dijk 6, Robertson 7 (Solanke 84, 5); Oxlade-Chamberlain 6 (Lallana 62, 5) Milner 6, Can 5; Salah 5, Firmino 6, Mane 6.
Gomez, Henderson, Mignolet, Mate.
C. Pawson 6