By Phil McNultyBBC Sport chief football writer at Anfield
Substitute Javier Hernandez earned Manchester United a point after England striker Wayne Rooney was left out of the starting line-up at Anfield.
The Mexican levelled nine minutes from time after Steven Gerrard, making his first start since
undergoing groin surgery in April
, put Liverpool ahead with a 68th-minute free-kick.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson revealed he dropped Rooney after he was left "devastated" by the
that rules him out of England's Euro 2012 group games following his
red card in Montenegro
As well as Rooney, Ferguson also left Hernandez and Nani on the bench in a much-changed United team.
We deserved three points - Dalglish
It looked like proving an expensive decision as Gerrard slotted a free-kick through the United wall to make it 1-0.
That was the signal for Ferguson to make changes - and Hernandez rescued a point with a close-range header.
Liverpool substitute Jordan Henderson almost snatched victory twice in stoppage time but United held on to end a run of three successive Premier League defeats at Anfield.
United were second-best for long periods as they struggled to adapt to an unfamiliar line-up and were ultimately fortunate to leave Merseyside with their unbeaten league run still intact.
And Ferguson was largely indebted to young keeper David de Gea, who has had his critics this season but made crucial saves to keep United in contention as they came under concerted pressure in the closing stages.
Phil McNulty's blog
“Sir Alex Ferguson raised expectations by elevating Manchester United's meeting with Liverpool to a level above Spain's "el Clasico" between Barcelona and Real Madrid - then dropped them to the floor with the arrival of his teamsheet”
Ferguson, perhaps recalling how United had been comprehensively outfought in the
3-1 defeat at Liverpool last season
, opted for a side with a more pragmatic look with Phil Jones moved into a midfield role.
And in an undistinguished opening, Jones had the best chance when he met Patrice Evra's cross at the far post but headed weakly off-target with what proved to be United's most inviting opening of the first half.
Liverpool captain Gerrard then created confusion in the United six-yard area with a whipped cross - but the clearest opportunity fell to Luis Suarez in the 33rd minute. Charlie Adam's shot deflected invitingly into the Uruguayan's path but, after cleverly wrong-footing Jonny Evans, he was thwarted by De Gea's block.
It was Liverpool who once again carried the momentum after the break and the recalled Rio Ferdinand was booked for a foul on Suarez, whose confrontational approach and brilliant natural ability was proving hard to handle.
After Evra was also shown a yellow card following a prolonged bout of bickering which also involved Suarez, Ferguson decided on a double change by replacing Park Ji-sung and Ashley Young with Nani and Rooney.
As they stood waiting to come on, Liverpool took the lead as Gerrard showed what his side have been missing. United hotly contested the free-kick awarded when Adam tumbled under Ferdinand's challenge - and Gerrard steered a 20-yard free-kick past De Gea, thanks in no small part to Ryan Giggs jumping out of the wall.
Ferguson frustrated with 'soft' free-kick
Ferguson then made another change as Liverpool moved within sight of victory, sending on Hernandez for Jones in the hope that the Mexican's goal-poaching instincts could be the catalyst for a comeback.
And so it proved when Hernandez arrived with perfect timing on to Danny Welbeck's flick from a corner to send a header flashing past Pepe Reina.
De Gea was United's hero again within seconds of Hernandez's equaliser, diving to his left to claw away Dirk Kuyt's shot as he got on the end of a superb cross from Stewart Downing.
Liverpool were still pressing for the winner in stoppage time with another substitute, Henderson, prominent. His angled finish was brilliantly turned away by De Gea and he also headed just over.
Defender Martin Skrtel should have done better than sky a chance into the Kop in the dying moments - and it was the Manchester United supporters who were happier with a point at the final whistle.
Jordan Henderson produces a header from inside the area that goes over the crossbar.
Jordan Henderson takes a shot. David De Gea makes a save. Outswinging corner taken left-footed by Stewart Downing from the left by-line, save by David De Gea. Corner taken by Charlie Adam, Shot from inside the area by Martin Skrtel clears the bar.
Unfair challenge on Luis Suarez by Darren Fletcher results in a free kick. The free kick is swung in right-footed by Steven Gerrard, Patrice Evra manages to make a clearance.
Shot by Stewart Downing went wide right of the net.
The official flags Luis Suarez offside. David De Gea takes the free kick.
The ball is sent over by Stewart Downing, Jonathan Evans makes a clearance.
A cross is delivered by Luis Nani, Jamie Carragher makes a clearance.
Patrice Evra sends in a cross, clearance made by Steven Gerrard.
Javier Hernandez sends in a cross, Stewart Downing makes a clearance.
Corner taken by Charlie Adam from the right by-line, David De Gea makes a save.
Dirk Kuyt takes a shot. Save by David De Gea.
Danny Welbeck provided the assist for the goal.
80:07 Goal scored
Goal! - Javier Hernandez - Liverpool 1 - 1 Man Utd Javier Hernandez scores a headed goal from close in. Liverpool 1-1 Man Utd.
Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Luis Nani from the left by-line,
Inswinging corner taken by Ryan Giggs from the right by-line, Charlie Adam makes a clearance.
The referee blows for offside. Jose Reina takes the indirect free kick.
Handball by Dirk Kuyt. Patrice Evra takes the free kick.
The official flags Luis Suarez offside. Jonathan Evans takes the free kick.
Substitution Javier Hernandez is brought on as a substitute for Phil Jones.
Luis Nani produces a right-footed shot from just outside the box that misses to the right of the target.
Unfair challenge on Charlie Adam by Luis Nani results in a free kick. Jose Reina takes the direct free kick.
The ball is swung over by Charlie Adam.
The ball is swung over by Luis Nani, clearance made by Charlie Adam.
Substitution Luis Nani joins the action as a substitute, replacing Ashley Young.
Substitution Ji-Sung Park goes off and Wayne Rooney comes on.
The assist for the goal came from Charlie Adam.
67:23 Goal scored
Goal! - Steven Gerrard - Liverpool 1 - 0 Man Utd Steven Gerrard hits the back of the net with a goal direct from the free kick from outside the area to the bottom right corner of the goal. Liverpool 1-0 Man Utd.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Charlie Adam by Rio Ferdinand.
Booking Patrice Evra shown a yellow card.
Charlie Adam sends in a cross.
Luis Suarez takes a shot. Blocked by Chris Smalling. Corner taken right-footed by Steven Gerrard, David De Gea makes a save.
Effort on goal by Luis Suarez from long range goes over the crossbar.
The ball is swung over by Sanchez Jose Enrique, David De Gea makes a save.
Danny Welbeck concedes a free kick for a foul on Steven Gerrard. Steven Gerrard takes the direct free kick.
Unfair challenge on Patrice Evra by Luis Suarez results in a free kick. David De Gea restarts play with the free kick.
Corner taken right-footed by Steven Gerrard, Chris Smalling makes a clearance.
Substitution Leiva Lucas goes off and Jordan Henderson comes on.
Steven Gerrard produces a cross, save made by David De Gea.
Luis Suarez takes a shot. Save by David De Gea.
Charlie Adam delivers the ball from the free kick left-footed from left channel.
Booking Rio Ferdinand is cautioned by the ref for unsporting behaviour.
Rio Ferdinand gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Luis Suarez.
Ashley Young takes a shot. Save made by Jose Reina. Corner taken right-footed by Ashley Young from the left by-line, Jonathan Evans produces a header from deep inside the six-yard box that clears the crossbar.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Luis Suarez by Chris Smalling. Free kick crossed right-footed by Steven Gerrard from left channel. Inswinging corner taken by Steven Gerrard from the left by-line, Dirk Kuyt takes a shot. Blocked by Jonathan Evans.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Jamie Carragher by Danny Welbeck. Jamie Carragher takes the free kick.
The assistant referee flags for offside against Luis Suarez. Rio Ferdinand takes the indirect free kick.
Leiva Lucas challenges Ashley Young unfairly and gives away a free kick. Ashley Young takes the direct free kick. Ashley Young takes a shot. Save made by Jose Reina.
Effort from outside the penalty box by Ashley Young goes wide left of the target.
Foul by Stewart Downing on Ji-Sung Park, free kick awarded. Free kick taken by Rio Ferdinand.
The referee gets the second half started.
45:00 +2:09 Half time
Half Time The whistle is blown to end the first half.
Charlie Adam crosses the ball from the free kick left-footed from right wing, David De Gea makes a save.
Booking Ashley Young is cautioned by the ref for unsporting behaviour.
Ashley Young challenges Steven Gerrard unfairly and gives away a free kick.
Charlie Adam fouled by Ryan Giggs, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by Leiva Lucas.
Shot from just outside the box by Ji-Sung Park misses to the left of the goal.
Luis Suarez is penalised for a handball. David De Gea takes the direct free kick.
Shot from outside the box by Darren Fletcher misses to the left of the target.
The ball is delivered by Steven Gerrard, save by David De Gea.
Charlie Adam takes a shot. Blocked by Jonathan Evans. Luis Suarez takes a shot. Save by David De Gea. Martin Kelly produces a cross, Rio Ferdinand makes a clearance.
The ball is delivered by Steven Gerrard.
Steven Gerrard takes a inswinging corner from the left by-line to the near post, Ryan Giggs makes a clearance.
The free kick is swung in left-footed by Ryan Giggs, Jamie Carragher makes a clearance.
Booking Booking for Leiva Lucas.
Unfair challenge on Ji-Sung Park by Leiva Lucas results in a free kick.
A cross is delivered by Sanchez Jose Enrique, Jonathan Evans manages to make a clearance.
A cross is delivered by Martin Kelly, Rio Ferdinand manages to make a clearance.
Stewart Downing delivers the ball, clearance made by Rio Ferdinand.
Effort from range distance by Luis Suarez goes wide of the right-hand upright.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Luis Suarez by Chris Smalling. Sanchez Jose Enrique takes the free kick.
Shot by Stewart Downing. Rio Ferdinand gets a block in. Charlie Adam decides to take a short corner, The ball is crossed by Steven Gerrard.
Ashley Young fouled by Martin Kelly, the ref awards a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Ryan Giggs.
The ball is delivered by Patrice Evra, Phil Jones has a headed effort at goal from close in which goes wide right of the goal.
Martin Kelly concedes a free kick for a foul on Ashley Young. The free kick is swung in right-footed by Ashley Young, Jose Reina makes a save.
Jamie Carragher delivers the ball, clearance made by Chris Smalling.
Unfair challenge on Luis Suarez by Rio Ferdinand results in a free kick. The free kick is delivered right-footed by Steven Gerrard from left channel, clearance by Patrice Evra.
Danny Welbeck takes a shot. Jose Reina makes a save.
Chris Smalling fouled by Stewart Downing, the ref awards a free kick. David De Gea takes the free kick.
Sanchez Jose Enrique delivers the ball, clearance by Patrice Evra.
The ball is delivered by Dirk Kuyt, save by David De Gea.
Centre by Martin Kelly, save by David De Gea.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Ji-Sung Park by Luis Suarez. Rio Ferdinand takes the direct free kick.
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