United took a 19th-minute lead through top scorer Robin van Persie when he side-footed Patrice Evra’s low center home from six yards following an even opening.
The home side doubled its advantage shortly after the break when Evra headed Van Persie’s free-kick home — though replays suggested Nemanja Vidic may have in fact got the final touch.
Substitute Sturridge helped Liverpool serve up an immediate retort, as he fired home after David De Gea had spilled a Steven Gerrard drive — and the Reds pressed hard for a leveler in the latter stages, but United was able to hold out for the win.
The pregame team news confirmed Stewart Downing would join Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling in attack, while new signing Sturridge was named on the bench along with the fit-again Fabio Borini.
It was the Italian’s first involvement since Stoke City on Oct. 7 following a foot injury.
The opening exchanges were in keeping with the early tempo of Liverpool-United clashes from over the years, as both teams set about sounding each other out.
Indeed, the game’s first opportunity of note did not arrive until the 19th minute — and with it, the home side took the lead as Van Persie tucked Evra’s low cross beyond Pepe Reina from close range.
The Dutchman spurned a good opportunity to add a quick-fire second moments later, scooping over from just inside the area after being picked out by Ashley Young’s pass.
Still, chances remained at a premium, though United slowly began to pose the greater threat — and Liverpool had a magnificent Daniel Agger block to thank for preventing Danny Welbeck from getting a clear shot on goal in after the striker had collected Joe Allen‘s wayward pass outside the box.
Tom Cleverley volleyed narrowly wide soon after while a goalmouth scramble inside the Reds’ 6-yard box saw Martin Skrtel hack Van Persie’s flick off the line to ensure the scoreline remained at 1-0 heading into the break.
Brendan Rodgers opted to introduce Sturridge into the action at halftime with the 23-year-old replacing Lucas Leiva in an attempt to give the visitors more attacking potency in the second period.
And in the 52nd minute, Liverpool manufactured its first real attempt when a counter-attack resulted in Andre Wisdom shooting off target from the corner of the box after being teed up by Suarez.
But just two minutes later, the hosts extended their lead as Evra arrived at the back post to nod in Van Persie’s free-kick, though the final touch may have come off Vidic.
However, Liverpool served up an instant riposte when Sturridge reacted quickest to tap into the back of the net after De Gea had been unable to hold onto Gerrard’s drilled effort.
Borini was summoned from the bench shortly after, taking the place of Sterling as the Reds chased a leveler.
The Reds’ tails were finally up and Sturridge and Borini both went close as the home crowd grew restless, but they were unable to breach the United rearguard again as the hosts held on for the three points.
Liverpoolfc.com journalists’ man of the match: Steven Gerrard.
Photo via LiverpoolFC.com