Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has insisted he did not target Dejan Loven, but striker Romelu Lukaku felt he could use past experience to get the better of the Liverpool defender.
Lukaku twice easily won long kicks from goalkeeper David de Gea in the first half and both times it led to goals from Marcus Rashford as United edged their rivals 2-1.
An Eric Bailly own goal made for an entertaining finish but United held on to extend their lead over the third-placed Reds to five points.
For long spells in the first half United profited from attacking the right-side of Liverpool's defence where Lovren and young full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold had a difficult afternoon and, while Mourinho said that was not their primary tactic, they did use Lukaku's physicality.
"We gave options to the players. I am not the kind of mechanic coach that says A pass to B, B to C, C to D. We have different options," he said.
"We have also the possibility of the long ball to (Scott) McTominay and to play against (Andrew) Robertson in the air. Lukaku was confident from experience that could be dominant towards Lovren."
Rashford marked his first Premier League start since Boxing Day in perfect fashion with two well-taken goals, his first double since his league debut in February 2016.
"He scored two goals in a big match against a top-class opponent. Of course he was fundamental. The first chance he had he scored," added the United boss.
"The last few months it was not happening for him and he was feeling it a bit in terms of confidence. Today we trusted him and felt it could be adapted to his qualities.
"He is improving a lot in training. The mood with him was improving in the last weeks."