Manchester City's last-gasp victory over Tottenham ramped up the pressure on the champions ahead of kick-off, and it was the hosts who had the first sniff of goal when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain pinched possession from Jones, but could only pull his cross into a cluster of United defenders.
That clumsy passage of play set the tone for a disjointed opening to the game. Neither side played with their usual fluidity or efficiency in possession, while the only efforts of the first 10 minutes were daisy-cutters from Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott which drew routine stops from Lindegaard.
The stop-start nature of the game continued when Jones twisted his left ankle after quarter of an hour. The right-back was stretchered from the field in obvious discomfort, with Rafael brought on as his replacement. The Brazilian's introduction coincided with United's growing control of proceedings.
A succession of corners almost yielded chances, with Smalling just failing to connect with Nani's cross before Giggs found space aplenty behind Vermaelen, but no targets to pick out thereafter. Danny Welbeck then ploughed into the same defensive chasm after a neat one-two with Valencia, but could only blaze over, under pressure from Laurent Koscielny.
As the half wore on, United's menace grew. Evra and Nani were an increasingly potent threat down the left flank, and they combined to force