On a special afternoon at Anfield, as Liverpool remembered the legendary Bill Shankly the day before what would have been his 100th birthday, it took just four minutes for Sturridge to mark the occasion in style with a clever header.
In a typically fiery affair between two fierce rivals, United put their hosts under pressure for long periods in the second half but could find no way past Simon Mignolet as David Moyes slipped to his first defeat since replacing Sir Alex Ferguson.
Liverpool’s match-winner against Stoke and Aston Villa on the Reds’ perfect opening to the season, Sturridge bagged another as the hosts made a lightning start.
The former Chelsea man had already given warning of his threat when he seized on the loose ball after Jordan Henderson had harassed Ashley Young into a mistake. Rio Ferdinand turned away his shot on that occasion.
But when Daniel Agger leapt highest at the corner, Sturridge was afforded far too much room inside the six-yard area to turn the ball home.
It was the kind of start Moyes must have dreaded, raising the decibel level of an already pretty raucous occasion.
Robin van Persie was not far away with an overhead kick after Patrice Evra had knocked down a Ryan Giggs free-kick, but largely it was an opening period of unremitting frustration for the visitors.
Watching England manager Roy Hodgson, who knew prior to kick-off he would be without Wayne Rooney for the vital World Cup qualifiers with Moldova and Ukraine, then saw Phil Jones limp off after the defender landed awkwardly jumping for a routine header.
Van Persie was one of three United players cautioned and the half ended with an angry exchange of words between Steven Gerrard and Robin van Persie, whose focus appeared to have slipped somewhat after an earlier tangle with Agger.
It was not that Liverpool were creating lots of opportunities, David de Gea saved a decent curling free-kick from Gerrard after Glen Johnson’s powerful burst had been halted unfairly and the excellent Philippe Coutinho curled a free-kick over the crossbar, but Liverpool’s main advantage came through their control of the game, with Lucas outstanding alongside his captain in that crucial central midfield area.
United did return with a bit more purpose at least. Michael Carrick started to find his passing range, which allowed Young, and then his replacement Nani to threaten from wide positions.
Still, United’s increased attacking threat came at the exposure of their defence, and the risk of a killer second.
Nemanja Vidic almost gifted it to Liverpool with an underhit back-pass that had De Gea rushing to clear as Johnson closed in.
Nani forced Mignolet into his best save of the match 15 minutes from time, just before Johnson became the latest member of Hodgson’s squad to depart, limping pretty badly after a crunching clash with Patrice Evra.
Van Persie could not make the most of a late opportunity provided by Javier Hernandez, and although five additional minutes of injury time brought a few nerves, in the end it was the hosts who came closest to scoring, De Gea brilliantly turning over Raheem Sterling’s powerful drive.