Steven Gerrard had fired the hosts into a deserved lead in the opening minute of the second half, only for Rafael to quickly curl home an unstoppable finish to level matters, and van Persie crashed home the decisive penalty after Antonio Valencia had been fouled by Glen Johnson.
The victory came despite a largely off-colour performance from the visitors, who toiled for long periods even in spite of the 39th-minute dismissal of Jonjo Shelvey for a two-footed lunge on Jonny Evans.
Shelvey took issue with referee Mark Halsey and, curiously, Sir Alex Ferguson after being sent off, and the home support were similarly incensed by the decision to penalise Johnson for his challenge on Valencia – though the England defender clipped the Ecuadorian's heel in trying to recover the ball.
The game’s events heightened the tension on a day already shrouded in pre-match fervour. Nevertheless, all fears of unruly fan behaviour from either end of the East Lancs Road proved unfounded. On the field too, there were handshakes throughout both sets of players and Sir Bobby Charlton presented Liverpool ambassador Ian Rush with flowers to commemorate the much-publicised recent Hillsborough ruling.
Amid all the issues surrounding the game, the major piece of team news was provided by Sir Alex Ferguson’s omission of Nemanja Vidic as a precautionary measure, after the Serbian had already - for the first time since last November - completed two full games in a week. Rio Ferdinand returned to