With Liverpool now 16 points ahead of nearest rivals Manchester City in the title race, the belief at Anfield that 30 years of hurt is about to end is really building — but it didn’t show until the final minute.
United’s battling resistance in the second half, in which they created one or two half-chances to equalise having defended doggedly, proved the nerves have not entirely yet gone.
After so many years of disappointment, even Liverpool’s incredible fans have an Achilles heel — that inner fear that their team could mess it all up again.
You won’t hear it expressed too often, because the belief and faith in Jurgen Klopp’s side is strong after the journey they have been on together.
But the silences when United were on the ball and the occasional biting of fingernails in the Kop showed that Anfield still has nerves.
Well, at least until Mo Salah scored in the final minute to stop them worrying.
It was only then that the Kop finally broke out into strains of “We’re going to win the league..”
You can’t argue with them.
The battle between the two most expensive defenders in the world proved to be a mismatch as Virgil van Dijk reminded everyone he is head and shoulders above Harry Maguire, despite losing his transfer record to the England international.
The Dutchman, who cost Liverpool €78m Euros from Southampton, rose above Maguire, who beat his record when Manchester United paid €94m to sign him from Leicester last summer, to score the opening goal at Anfield — and the symbolism was lost on no-one.
Whatever the fees involved, it’s clear that van Dijk is on a different level and his imperious performance here summed up why.
He shook of Maguire again in the first half to set up another chance.
And he was then hugely unfortunate to see Roberto Fimino’s goal disallowed for his challenge on United goalkeeper David de Gea, which looked perfectly legal.
It’s hard to believe that the value of the defender, who only just missed out on the world player of the year award for 2019, was questioned when he first arrived at Anfield.
Alan Shearer famously questioned the deal, saying: “Van Dijk is a good player, yes, but for £75m? No, he’s not worth it at all.”
Now, the money spent on the former Southampton and Celtic man looks a snip; certainly when you compare him against new United captain Maguire — a solid and determined defender but missing the extra the quality and aura of his Anfield counterpart.
United certainly need to improve their defending from corners. The goal conceded at Anfield was their eighth of the season from a corner — the worst record in this season’s Premier League alongside relegation battlers Norwich and Aston Villa.
Roberto Firmino’s disallowed first-half goal set off yet another VAR debate after Virgil van Dijk was adjudged to have fouled David de Gea when jumping to compete for a high ball during the build-up.
De Gea was so convinced of his case that he was booked by referee Craig Pawson for his angry over-reaction, before VAR saved the day for United.
But the decision split fans online and Liverpool found an unlikely ally in United and Republic legend Roy Keane.
“Why they disallowed this goal is beyond me, I can’t understand it,” he said.
“How they see it as a foul is beyond me. The game has gone mad.”
What confused many people was that VAR also looked at a similar incident for United earlier in the season, when de Gea lost the ball in similar circumstances under challenge from Everton’s Dominic Calvert Lewin, whose arm went across the Spaniard before Lindelof turned into his own net, the goal stood.
It seems VAR has done nothing to bring consistency to the game.
The trouble for United began even before kick-off here, with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitting that key striker Marcus Rashford could be out for several weeks.
It was always a possibility United’s top scorer could miss the trip to Anfield after hurting his back against Wolves, but there were still pundits willing to suggest he would miraculously recover in time.
That wasn’t the case and in fact the news is far more depressing for United fans.
Solskjaer’s pre-match interviews suggested the England international could be out for ‘several weeks’ and worse news came after the game when Solskjaer admitted Rashford now has a double stress fracture in his back.
Between that and his ankle problem, Rashford could be out for two to three months, leaving United desperate to find cover in the transfer window, which only has a couple of weeks to run.
Either way, with Anthony Martial missing United’s best chance at Anfield, they are desperate for something more up front.
There were times in the second half when United, with Fred impressive, had beaten the crowd and put Liverpool under pressure; but when it came to the final ball, the final shot, they didn’t have the extra quality to take what might have been a deserved point.
Salah’s superb goal in injury time to seal Liverpool’s victory was his first ever against Manchester United and came after he missed a sitter early in the first half.
But it underlined just how important the Egyptian is to Liverpool’s title tilt.
The Anfield club have won every single one of the last 18 games in which Salah has played and he worked tirelessly against United, even when things didn’t go his way.
It was only in the very last minute that goalkeeper Alisson found him unmarked to race away and beat David de Gea, ending a run of games in which Liverpool’s famous front three have failed to score against their bitter rivals.
“I was thinking I’m never going to score against them,” Salah admitted, before insisting the title is not won yet.
“I think we just need to keep focused now.
“We don’t need to think we have won the Premier League yet. We have to keep calm.”
Having been unbeaten now in 52 games at home, however, it’s hard to see anyone stopping Salah and his Liverpool side.