Manchester United walked out to face Liverpool amid a mood of insurrection and undisguised pessimism – then walked off to noisy acclaim as the Erik ten Hag era was ignited on a memorable night of sound and fury at Old Trafford.
United’s supporters marched in their thousands in protest against the ownership of the Glazers before kick-off and even the pre-match parading of new £60m signing Casemiro was accompanied by the soundtrack of open discontent aimed at the Americans.
There was, however, unity behind an outstanding United performance that made a nonsense of the embarrassment of the home defeat by Brighton and 4-0 humiliation at Brentford in Ten Hag’s first two Premier League games.
He ordered his players to take their anger out on Liverpool and, from the first whistle, this was as good as Old Trafford has felt for some time as the manager got exactly what he wanted for his first victory.
How United’s fans loved every second of it after the misery of recent times under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick, two large portions of it inflicted by Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Ten Hag and United needed this to lift the mood of crisis and unrest around Manchester United and who better to produce it against than Liverpool?
The concerns of fans heading to Old Trafford were not just about United’s abject early performances but the memories of the 5-0 embarrassment at Liverpool’s hands here last season.
What a contrast this was as United tore into Liverpool from the kick-off, Jadon Sancho’s perfect piece of composure the result of searing early pressure.
United showed more passion and intent in the first 10 minutes here than they did in two league matches against Liverpool last season, which ended with a 9-0 aggregate in the Merseysiders’ favour.
And the biggest winner was Ten Hag, whose stock will rise with the manner in which he made the big, brave calls and also produced a tactical gameplan that worked to perfection.
Ten Hag had to do something after the Brentford debacle because what he witnessed there was unacceptable and unsustainable. He responded with a selection he knew would face scrutiny if it went wrong.
He dropped captain Harry Maguire and the talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, then saw United produce a performance of intensity, defensive solidity and bravery. It was the most satisfying vindication.
Maguire’s standing as captain must now be in doubt after he was left out of what is arguably United’s biggest game of the season. He can have no complaints as they looked much more secure without him.
Raphael Varane was powerful aerially while Lisandro Martinez showed a fierce competitive spirit, making his intentions clear with robust early challenges on Mohamed Salah.
Ronaldo only appeared with United running down the clock after Salah’s late goal threatened to give Liverpool a point they did not deserve.
Ten Hag went with the pace of Sancho and Marcus Rashford – who showed great composure to score United’s second goal – along with Anthony Elanga, replaced at half-time by Anthony Martial, to press and exploit Liverpool’s increasingly vulnerable high defensive line.
The results were clear to see as Liverpool were run ragged at the back, with Virgil van Dijk’s poor early-season form exposed again, especially with a strangely passive attempt to stop Sancho scoring.
Ten Hag got it all spot on – and now United have shown what they can do without Maguire and Ronaldo, he should stick with it.
This is not great news for England centre-back Maguire’s World Cup prospects and may hasten Ronaldo towards the exit, but neither of these issues are Ten Hag’s concern and nor should they be.
It all inspired the most remarkable switch in emotions around Manchester United. Yes, the fans still want the Glazers out, but this was a performance they could appreciate and relate to from first to last.
One of the big questions was whether United actually had it in them to come back from the defeats such as Brentford. This was an emphatic response.
As for Liverpool, this was another chastening evening in what has been a bitterly disappointing start to the campaign.
Yes, they have mounting injury problems and the stupidity of Darwin Nunez’s red card against Crystal Palace was brought into even sharper focus as Liverpool were not even given the opportunity to exploit Martinez’s lack of height.
Klopp’s decision to leave Fabinho on the bench was mystifying, especially when Jordan Henderson and James Milner were so badly exposed and off the pace from the kick-off.
Liverpool will get better but their tally of only two points from three games is a fair reflection on their performances so far. They have deserved no more. They have not been anywhere near good enough when set against previous sky-high standards.
As for United, they can celebrate a victory few predicted against a Liverpool side that destroyed them twice last season. They are now even ahead of them in the Premier League table.
This was a hugely satisfying night for Manchester United and new manager Ten Hag.