Van Persie fires United past 10-man Liverpool
Premier League, Anfield - Liverpool 1 (Gerrard 46) Manchester United 2 (Rafael 51, Van Persie 81 pen)
Manchester United moved up to second in the Premier League table after beating Liverpool 2-1 on an emotional day at Anfield.
Jonjo Shelvey was sent off for the home side towards the end of a first half they had largely controlled, but then Steven Gerrard gave the 10-man Reds the lead within a minute of the start of the second half.
That lead only lasted five minutes, however, before United defender Rafael equalised. The visitors then began to make their one-man advantage count and Robin van Persie gave them the lead from the penalty spot nine minutes from time.
The win is United's first at Anfield in almost five years, since Carlos Tevez scored the only goal of the game in December 2007. The victory sends them up to second in the table on 12 points, one behind leaders Chelsea.
Liverpool still await their first league win of the season, and remain in the bottom three where they were shunted down to following Saturday's results.
On what was always set to be an emotionally-charged day as Liverpool played their first home game since the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report exonerated Liverpool fans of blame for the 1989 disaster, moving pre-match tributes were paid to the 96 who lost their lives as a result of the tragedy.
Before kick-off United legend Bobby Charlton came out onto the pitch with a bouquet of 96 red roses, 96 red balloons were released into the sky by Ryan Giggs – United captain in the absence of Nemanja Vidic - and the home crowd held up placards spelling out 'The Truth', 'Justice' and '96' as they sang their traditional pre-match rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone.
After those marks of respect were paid - and the sideshow of Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra shaking hands took place – the match got underway in a spirit of relative conviviality. To begin with, at least.
The first-half was a microcosm of Liverpool's Premier League season so far. They dominated possession, especially in the centre of the park against a porous United midfield, but continually struggled in front of goal.
After Shinji Kagawa to Ryan Giggs on the edge of the box, only for United's captain for the day to fire wide seven minutes in, the majority of the play was in United's half and most of the chances were Liverpool's.
Steven Gerrard had half the crowd celebrating when he shot form an angle following a corner, but the Liverpool skipper had only hit the side-netting.
On the day he became the youngest Liverpool player ever to feature in this fixture, 17-year-old winger Raheem Sterling showed flashes of his potential and sporadically linked up well with Luis Suarez.
For all of Liverpool's superior possession, however, the only time United goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard was forced into a save was from a well-struck Suarez free-kick.
Liverpool surrendered their midfield advantage six minutes from half-time when Shelvery was sent off for recklessly lunging into a 50/50 challenge with Jonny Evans. On a day in which both managers appeared on live television before kick-off in a sign of unity between the two tragedy-stricken clubs, Shelvey's rowing with Alex Ferguson on his way down the tunnel was an unedifying sight.
At the break Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers replaced the industrious but ineffectual Fabio Borini for Spanish youngster Suso, and the 18-year-old was immediately involved in the build-up which saw the Reds take the lead.
After Suso and Glen Johnson both caused the United defence problems the ball broke to Gerrard, who took it on his chest before firing a clinical low finish home for his first league goal since March.
United – who had themselves made a half-time switch by bringing Paul Scholes on for the out-of-form Nani – responded well and were level soon afterwards. Antonio Valencia and Shinji Kagawa combined cleverly with Rafael, with the Japanese chesting the ball down for the Brazil full-back to curl a fine left-footed finish in off the far post.
It was Rafael's second league goal of the season, matching his total from his previous four years at United.
Suarez brought the best out of Lindegaard by forcing another low save from the Dane, but any hopes of the home side holding on for at least a point were ruined when Valencia won United a 76th-minute penalty.
The Ecuadorean winger pounced on a loose ball in midfield and sprinted into the Liverpool area, where Johnson slid in with a challenge which did not appear to make much in the way of contact with either ball or player. Still, referee Mark Halsey pointed to the spot.
Van Persie had to wait almost five minutes before taking the spot-kick as Daniel Agger received treatment and was then substituted, but he kept his nerve to fire home despite Pepe Reina getting a big hand to the strike.
Following Agger's injury, Martin Kelly sustained would could be a serious injury after landing awkwardly on his right leg in stoppage time to bring a miserable end to the match which had begun so emotionally for Liverpool.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Rafael (Manchester United) – The Brazilian's delightful curling effort got United back on terms and he generally kept Liverpool quiet down his side of the pitch.