partner Jonny Evans in his stead, while Ryan Giggs stood in as captain.
After a strong start from the visitors, it was Giggs who had the game's first opening. Nani made progress down the left flank and fed the ball inside for Shinji Kagawa, who in turn teed up his captain for a poked, 20-yard effort which narrowly skirted by Pepe Reina's top corner.
Liverpool's riposte was to quickly seize control of the game. Rafael twice had to make alert defensive headers, once re-adjusting superbly after Anders Lindegaard had palmed out Luis Suarez's drilled cross, then nodding over his own crossbar as Fabio Borini lurked with intent at the back post.
Sections of the home support were celebrating moments later, but in error as Steven Gerrard drilled a low shot just past Lindegaard’s post after a well-worked short corner.
United were rattled, and just before the quarter-hour the visitors’ defensive ranks were breached again, but a heavy first touch from Borini took him away from goal and allowed Evans to take the sting out of the Italian’s subsequent shot.
The Reds’ game was disjointed – too often frivolous with possession or pedestrian to counter – and an injury to Ferdinand looked set to further hamper Sir Alex’s gameplan. Instead, the veteran played on despite his discomfort and emerged as one of the Reds’ most important players in the first period, constantly repelling the hosts’ forward forays.
The game remained poised in that manner, with Liverpool’s possession only undone by their own attacking bluntness and solidity in the United defence. Then, with six minutes of the half remaining, the complexion of the game