United retained 10 of the 11 starters against Liverpool as Phil Jones replaced the injured Ashley Young and took up a central midfield role. Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa both kept their places in the team, while Wayne Rooney took up a spot on the bench having made his return from injury in the midweek FA Cup replay win over West Ham.
Neither side took complete control early on as possession see-sawed and clear openings in front of goal were few; a glancing header from van Persie after ten minutes failed to trouble Tottenham keeper Hugo Lloris and at the other end the lively Aaron Lennon forced a parried save from David De Gea, who smothered a rebound effort from Defoe but he was offside.
It was the home side, for whom Lennon was a constant threat, who looked like finding a foothold in the game just as United scored on 25 minutes. Welbeck neatly worked the ball out to Cleverley on the right and, with a delivery reminiscent of his idol David Beckham, the Reds midfielder crossed perfectly for van Persie to head home from a tight angle at the far post - the Dutchman’s 22nd goal of a remarkable debut season with United.
The goal galvanised the visitors for a strong finish to the half, but Tottenham too appeared incentivised and gave a reminder of the danger they pose five minutes before half time when De Gea had to improvise to save with his legs from Gareth Bale’s right-foot shot on the edge of the area. Andre Villas-Boas’ side then piled on the pressure