So close. But Liverpool can't take full advantage of chances created, and United keeps scoring late goals. Narratives are awesome.
Both managers would have been happy with the first hour of play. United's surprisingly defensive lineup – without Rooney, Nani, and Chicharito and with Phil Jones in midfield – limited Liverpool opportunities. Liverpool kept it tight, with United even more lacking in the final third, but Suarez was often isolated as Liverpool lined up in a fairly orthodox but fairly fluid 4-5-1.
And each goal came from an opposition set-play mistake. Gerrard broke the deadlock by breaking United's wall with a free kick, eerily parallel with his equalizing goal at Old Trafford last year. Hernandez leveled 13 minutes later, five minutes after coming on, when Welbeck lost Carra on a corner and Chicharito lost Skrtel to follow up the flick-on.
It was a frustrating first half: both sides clearly prioritizing defense, somehow both over-exuberant and cagey. The 4-5-1 formation did well to blunt United, but United also blunted themselves, reliant on Young and Welbeck to break Liverpool's back line with pace, which they were unable to do with Carragher, Skrtel, and at least one fullback sitting deep. Despite Suarez as a lone striker, most of Liverpool's forays into the final third ended with crosses from Downing, Enrique, Gerrard, and Kuyt, as if Carroll were still involved.
Jones had an early half-chance before Liverpool fully settled, heading into the side-netting at the back post following one of Evra's few overlaps down the left. Liverpool's mainly came on set plays and breaks of the ball: Gerrard slammed a short corner across the face of goal in the 22nd and Suarez luckily picked up Adam's deflected shot, only to slam his effort straight at De Gea, in the 34th – which was the only save required from either keeper in the first half.
The second half continued in the same safety-first vein until Liverpool finally took advantage of one of those door-opening missteps. Adam bought a free kick, marginally clipped by a retreating Ferdinand, and Gerrard found the gap between Welbeck and Giggs. I won't quote all those clever folks who made "Giggs was protecting his most important body part" jokes. It was clever, though.
United were planning on sending on both Rooney and Nani prior to the opener, one of Ferguson frequent double substitutions, ready to exploit tiring Liverpool legs with fresh attackers. Chicharito joined the fray soon after, and inevitable United pressure followed – not necessarily a matter of Liverpool protecting a lead; almost every side responds after conceding and the substitutions certainly helped. And Liverpool were coping well until two defenders were beaten on a set play for the only time in the match, on United's third corner (compared to Liverpool's eight), scoring with their second (and only threatening) shot on target. Liverpool are making fewer defense errors, but are still being punished for them. Life isn't fair sometimes.
While the concession could have sent Liverpool reeling and retreating, allowing United to complete the "champions comeback" narrative, the equalizer buoyed the home side. De Gea's save on Kuyt diving prod and palming away the subsequent corner came immediately. Three more chances came in quick succession in injury time: Liverpool's only substitute, Jordan Henderson, forced a lovely save from De Gea with a dipping volley and somehow headed Downing's inch-perfect cross over the bar, bracketing Skrtel ballooning a scrambled corner after Suarez and Adam couldn't make clean contact.
Liverpool shaded pretty much everything: possession, chances created, pattern of play, shots on goal, and unlucky 50-50 referee decisions (could have had penalty for Evans' handball in the 51st, Ferdinand could have seen a second yellow for fouling Adam prior to Liverpool's goal, but no-calls on both are 'understandable'). That they did without coming away with all three points certainly irritates. As does Liverpool wasting five chances in the final ten minutes.
Gerrard's return was a revelation, roaming all over midfield and notching a trademark free kick on his return. Adam benefited most from his inclusion, adding extra support for the playmaker in midfield. Both fullbacks impressed, as did Henderson off the bench. On in place of Lucas, who clearly struggled following the international break, the midfielder's fresh legs and willing, clever runs were crucial to opening up the game, and Liverpool notably coped with losing Lucas' midfield tackling. If he'd only taken his chances. Also, that Lucas (and Suarez to a lesser extent) disappointed after returning from their South American sides unpleasantly contrasts with Chicharito's impact off the bench.
So nothing won, nothing lost, and Liverpool are probably more aggrieved with the result. On the plus side, Liverpool almost totally shut down a side who looked to be running away from the rest of the league. That Ferguson deployed an unfamiliar defensive shape gives Liverpool more credit than they probably deserve. Gerrard immediately demonstrated what Liverpool missed, adding many more options to a still-maturing side. Yes, Liverpool aren't scoring, but at least they got into those scoring positions in a frequently cautious fixture – although that's little reassurance when it's been routinely repeated through the first eight games. Some credit has to go to De Gea as well (thanks everyone who jinxed it by questioning his competence). There are still multiple signs of an evolving, capable team somewhere in there.
On the negative side, it's one point instead of three. And Liverpool are probably more aggrieved with the result.