Many emotions coursed through the minds of Liverpool supporters but they would not have included a pang of sympathy for the beaten manager. So jumbled has the football scene become that the late winner in an intense match was not for once the inevitable property of Manchester United. The circumstances, with Patrice Evra badly at fault, might have been dictated by a vengeful Anfield crowd.

The left-back is no innocent party in their eyes, even if an independent commission found only Liverpool's Luis Suárez guilty of racist abuse in an exchange between the players during a game in October. The eight-match ban encompassed the encounter on Saturday but Evra, the United captain, had to endure punishment on the field. He was barracked throughout, yet the animosity was not based on skin colour.

So far as the home support was concerned, this was traditional antipathy, with the intensity a notch higher than usual. The Liverpool fans even chanted some guidelines. It was explained they were not racist but simply hated "Mancs". Amid the bedlam and rage, Evra, normally a sound defender, let his concentration snap in the 88th minute.

He took up a position too far towards his left and so created a gap in the middle of the United defence. Andy Carroll met a long ball from his goalkeeper Pepe Reina and glanced it towards Dirk Kuyt, with the substitute's angled shot finding the right-hand corner of the net. That incident hardly reflected the nature of the match, but there was an insistence to Liverpool that could not be denied.

The comforting prospect of a replay at Old Trafford might have undermined United but there are broader causes behind the defeat. The means available to United are not so great as in times gone by and not even Ferguson will be sure of manipulating them to achieve the desired result. Rio Ferdinand, at 33, cannot appear as regularly as he once did and was an unused substitute.

Paul Scholes acquitted himself admirably but the re-emergence from retirement of a 37-year-old can bring difficulties of its own. The midfielder was positioned in front of the backline and while that prevents him from exercising devilment and imagination on the attack it does allow him to remain on the pitch for longer. However, 90 minutes is still too much and Liverpool's surge owed something to his substitution with 14 minutes remaining.

Ferguson is obliged to deal in the sort of caution not associated with United. The rate of scoring is still a good one but their firepower can look diminished just when goals are badly needed. United could not achieve anything close to mastery over Basel in the critical Champions League away game and were deservedly eliminated in the group phase.

The injury that ended Nemanja Vidic's season on that evening in Switzerland has done the sort of damage that cannot be camouflaged. With Wayne Rooney unavailable through injury, Ferguson attempted to get by with just one attacker in Danny Welbeck until the 89th minute, when Dimitar Berbatov was sent on in desperation.

United were the more accomplished side but the impact was small. Liverpool are 16 points adrift of them in the Premier League and while that sort of gap cannot be bridged swiftly, little defects may take their toll in a single match. David de Gea, reinstated in place of Anders Lindegaard, let himself be boxed in as Daniel Agger headed Liverpool in front from a Steven Gerrard corner in the 21st minute.

United, all the same, maintained an air of superiority and the Anfield crowd may have been all the more gleeful about getting the better of opponents who were manifestly dominant for extended periods. The quality of Ferguson's side when on the attack could not always be suppressed and the equaliser through Park Ji-sung's drive was bright, with Rafael da Silva breaking free of José Enrique after 39 minutes to set up the opportunity.

It is beyond doubt that United remain a good team and there were spells when it took tremendous efforts by defenders such as Martin Skrtel to keep them at bay but Ferguson has created high standards. Followers of the club expect to see a squad capable of winning the European Cup again. The net spending on transfers at Old Trafford is small by comparison with turnover and United may yet suffer if the resources are not available to buy elite footballers who can succeed players such as Ryan Giggs and Scholes.

There are rising talents within the club, but it would be complacent to assume they are bound for greatness. Ferguson's side are now without a win at Anfield since December 2007. That has certainly not been the ruin of United but it does suggest that the redevelopment of the squad must assume even more urgency.