the Portuguese in his own half and evading another in United territory before firing wide.
Ronaldo had more joy on the left flank, switching in time to strike the post in the 24th minute when Ryan Giggs’ whipped-in free-kick from the right was inadvertently flicked on by a Liverpool defender. When play swung to the other end, United were grateful to the nick off Nemanja Vidic diverting Steven Gerrard’s piledriver over the bar.
Another end-to-end episode just after the half-hour began with Reina almost spilling Giggs' cross over his own goal-line before pushing it out at the second attempt to trigger a Fernando Torres-led counter-attack. Liverpool failed to capitalise from the corner he won however and were made to pay when Wes Brown charged forward to power home a header from Rooney’s left-wing cross in the 34th minute. Reina was rocky again, flailing with a punch that missed both the ball and Brown who bravely ran the gauntlet.
It was all too much for the opposition to take - within minutes, Liverpool were a man down as well as a goal down after an extraordinary explosion of indiscipline saw Torres booked for dissent and Mascherano given his marching orders when his backchat brought his second yellow card. And all this after Liverpool were awarded a free kick in United’s half!
Mascherano was like a man possessed and Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez had his work cut out to keep his player away from Bennett, before launching into a heated exchange of his own with United assistant manager Carlos Queiroz. It was a stormy end to a fiery first period with the promise of more fireworks to come.
The second half opened with Reina snuffing out Ronaldo’s attempt to extend United’s lead and van der Sar saving a long-range Gerrard shot. Alvaro Arbeloa became the first player after the break to get booked, bringing down Anderson inches outside the Liverpool