LIVERPOOL, England -- Daniel Sturridge grabbed Liverpool's winner for the third straight Premier League game to condemn fierce rival Manchester United to a 1-0 loss on Sunday, handing David Moyes his first defeat as manager of the champions.
The England striker flicked home a close-range header following a fourth-minute corner to maintain his red-hot form and his side's perfect start to the season. Liverpool has won all three of its games 1-0 and Sturridge is providing the cutting edge in the continued absence of suspended Luis Suarez.
"I'm delighted with his application because he was nowhere near fit today," Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said. "But even at 70 per cent, he'll be as good, if not better, than a lot of Premier League strikers."
United dominated possession in the second half but barely created a clear-cut chance in the absence of Wayne Rooney, who was missing after sustaining a head injury in training on Saturday. With just four points from a possible nine and an away match at Manchester City to come in his fifth league match, Moyes isn't having a comfortable start to life as Alex Ferguson's successor.
"I thought we played very well, probably the best we have played this season," said Moyes, who didn't win at Anfield in his 11 years across Stanley Park at neighbour Everton either. "Tell you what, I could really see why this team are the champions."
Moyes was putting a brave face on his current situation, but this display -- coming after a 0-0 draw with Chelsea on Monday -- showed why United has been in the transfer market for attacking midfielders this summer. Robin van Persie wasted a good late opportunity but he was largely starved of service by a sturdy Liverpool backline.
There's always motivation for Liverpool to beat United, its biggest rival, but there was even more on Sunday.
The match was played on the eve of what would have been the 100th birthday of the late Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, who died in 1981 after helping turn the club into the leading force in English football in a 15-year spell from 1959-74.
Shankly's daughter and six grandchildren stood on the touchline as Liverpool fans -- and most of United's travelling fans -- took part in a minute's applause in the Scot's honour before kickoff. There was a mosaic of Shankly in The Kop stand, along with a banner saying "He Made People Happy," while a stirring rendition of club anthem "You'll Never Walk Alone" was belted out.
It certainly got Liverpool's players fired up and they were first to every ball in a breathless opening spell in which Sturridge grabbed an 11th goal in his last nine Liverpool games.
Daniel Agger beat Rio Ferdinand to Steven Gerrard's outswinging corner and Sturridge was there inside the six-yard box to stoop and flick home a deft header. The sound was deafening as Sturridge and the whole Liverpool team ran to Rodgers, who has instilled belief into the striker since his move from Chelsea in January.
That was enough to ensure a third straight win to start a season for only the second time in the Premier League era. Rodgers laughed out loud when a reporter asked if Liverpool could be classed as title contenders but Suarez is returning soon from a ban for biting and Chelsea winger Victor Moses is one of three players expected to sign Monday on transfer deadline day.
"We won't be getting carried away," Rodgers said. "The initial challenge is to get in the top four and I don't think we can look at anything beyond that."
But with Ferguson gone, Liverpool can maybe start dreaming of closing the gap to United.
This was a tight, frenetic and typically feisty encounter between England's most successful clubs, who have won the top-flight title 38 times between them. Van Persie spent most of his time tangling with Agger and Martin Skrtel while two defenders, Phil Jones (United) and Glen Johnson (Liverpool), went off with ankle injuries.
United improved after the break, pressing higher and starving Liverpool's lightweight forward line of possession but worryingly there was no end product without Rooney.
"Wayne Rooney is world class ... he's a top, top operator and when we heard he wasn't playing, it gives you a tonic," Rodgers said. "We were defensively strong and I thought the players' concentration was very good."