(CNN) -- When the two most successful teams in English football meet, the stakes are high.
Not only is there the bragging rights fought for between the bitterly opposed tribes of Manchester United and Liverpool, but the result can bear more resonance than just the effect it has on the Premier League title race.
"Winning against Liverpool is important. It doesn't matter where you are in the league," United manager Alex Ferguson said after his team's 2-1 victory at Old Trafford on Sunday.
"Manchester United-Liverpool games are fantastic challenges. They are the two most successful teams in the country. Today, hopefully, those three points will be very important."
Sunday's win gave United a 74-62 advantage in the 187 clashes between the two teams, and a season double after winning by the same score at Anfield in September.
Just as importantly, it meant that United ended the weekend seven points clear of second-placed defending champions Manchester City, who beat 10-man Arsenal 2-0 in Sunday's other match.
It leaves the club in pole position for a record-extending 20th English title -- two more than Liverpool, whose last came in 1990, before the start of the Premier League era.
"I would have taken that score before the game," Ferguson told reporters. "The first-half performance, and until we scored the second goal, was absolutely brilliant.
"It was as good a performance as we have had for a long time and we should have been three or four up, but when they got their goal they got inspired by it. Their supporters got going and it was hard work after that. I am just glad we won."
United took the lead in the 19th minute through Robin van Persie, who netted his 21st goal this season and a leading 17th in the EPL from Patrice Evra's low cross.
The second goal came after Evra evaded his marker Glen Johnson and headed Van Persie's 54th-minute free-kick into the net via a deflection off fellow defender Nemanja Vidic, who was credited with the score.
Evra was a focal figure last time the teams met at Old Trafford in February 2012, when Liverpool striker Luis Suarez refused to shake his hand before the match in their first encounter following the Uruguayan's eight-match ban for racially abusing the France left-back.
The anticipated duel this time was not between these two, but Suarez and Van Persie -- the EPL's leading marksmen.
Suarez has almost singlehandedly carried Liverpool's attack this season, scoring 15 league goals, but it was his new forward partner Daniel Sturridge who reduced the deficit on his Premier League debut for the club.
The former Chelsea striker scored in the FA Cup win against Mansfield, and again impressed after coming on at halftime to replace Brazil midfielder Lucas Leiva.
The 23-year-old England international was fastest to react after captain Steven Gerrard forced a parried save from United keeper David de Gea just three minutes after Vidic's goal.
However, despite all the late pressure Liverpool could not force an equalizer and ended the match 24 points behind United in eighth place.
"We're 24 points behind United -- but we're not 24 points behind in quality," said defiant Liverpool manager Brendan Rogers. "The points difference is due to the squad -- the depth in the squads is the difference for us.
"Once we close the gap in the squad over these coming windows, I've got great faith we'll be able to challenge. I've seen enough hope in these opening months to suggest we will do that -- and today was another example of it."
Last season Manchester City overhauled an eight-point deficit to win the club's first league title in 44 years on a dramatic final day of the season, and a similar effort will again be required this time.
Roberto Mancini's team ensured Arsenal's focus will be a top-four finish, ending any remaining hopes of title contention with a victory that left the sixth-placed London side 21 points adrift of United.
The match turned early when Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny was sent off for manhandling City striker Edin Dzeko in the penalty area.
The Bosnian's 11th-minute spotkick was saved by a combination of the legs of goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and the woodwork, but it was only another 10 minutes before James Milner put City ahead after being set up by Carlos Tevez.
The Argentina striker has never scored against Arsenal, but he was also involved in the second goal as Dzeko doubled the lead just after half an hour for his 10th in the league this season.
The only blot on City's day came when captain Vincent Kompany was sent off for a sliding two-footed tackle on Jack Wilshere, though the Belgium defender appeared to win the ball.
Mancini said he planned to appeal the decision, even though an unsuccessful petition to the Football Association could mean Kompany is banned for four games instead of three.
"This is not a red card, absolutely not," the Italian said after City's first win at Arsenal in nearly 38 years.
"He has one foot in and takes the ball. I think the referee made a mistake."