Dimitar Berbatov scored a hat-trick as Manchester United overcame a Liverpool fightback to win 3-2 in a classic Premier League battle at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Berbatov rose high to nod home an 84th-minute header to seal maximum points for United, who had seen Liverpool recover from two goals down thanks to a second-half brace from skipper Steven Gerrard.
The win saw Sir Alex Ferguson’s side go level on points with second-placed Arsenal, and one point behind leaders Chelsea, who play Blackpool later on Sunday.
All the pre-match attention had been on the return of Wayne Rooney but it was in-form Bulgarian striker Berbatov who stole the show with a virtuoso display that left Liverpool shattered.
Berbatov put United 1-0 ahead on on 42 minutes after being left in acres of space by marker Fernando Torres when Ryan Giggs swung in a corner.
The Bulgarian then doubled United’s lead on 59 minutes with a sublime effort, using one touch to control a Nani cross before sending an overhead kick crashing in off the underside of the Liverpool bar.
Ferguson later hailed the performance of Berbatov, who is enjoying his best run of form for United since his transfer from Tottenham in 2008 in a deal worth 30.75 million pounds (36.86 million euros).
“There was a lot of criticism of him last season from the media, and it happens when we buy a player for a lot of money and he’s not scoring a hat-trick every game,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.
“This season he’s started off in the right fashion, his pre-season training was very good, the pre-season tour was good and he’s carried that on.
“But there’s never been any doubt about the quality of the man. And we saw that again today.”
However, for the second league match running, United’s defensive frailties were exposed once more as Ferguson’s men saw a two-goal lead evaporate.
Centre-back Jonny Evans blatantly brought down Torres in the box to allow Gerrard to convert a spot-kick on 64 minutes.
Then, six minutes later, United’s defence were at fault again for Liverpool’s equaliser.
Referee Howard Webb booked John O’Shea for a tackle on Torres that left Gerrard with a free-kick from the edge of the area.
Gerrard’s shot was accurate and hit with power but went straight through a hole in the United wall left by Darren Fletcher, to the disgust of United’s beaten keeper Edwin van der Sar.
It was the second time in the space of a week that United had let slip a two-goal lead, having been held to a 3-3 at Everton last weekend.
Buoyed by the goals, Liverpool looked capable of taking all three points, but Berbatov’s late header ended their fightback and left Roy Hodgson’s team with only one win from five games.
Manchester City visit third-bottom Wigan Athletic in Sunday’s other game.
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