Jose Mourinho may have joked that he would unveil the revolutionary 1-0-9 formation against Liverpool, but this was not the time for bold surprises.
And, as much as Liverpool supposedly rued the absence of talisman Sadio Mane, this was not really a game about those who were not on the field either.
Would Paul Pogba really have changed Mourinho’s reactive approach on his own?
It is unlikely Mourinho would have moved away from his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, given Pogba’s fruitful partnership with Nemanja Matic, or dramatically altered his approach.
Equally, it is unlikely Pogba would have been given licence to roam into those zones Henrikh Mkhitaryan operates in like he has done at weaker sides this season.
Often, in these big games, Pogba tends to try too hard – the Hollywood balls and tricks and flicks – and he failed to really affect this fixture last season because of Mourinho’s set-up, when the onus was on him to pull something out of the hat.
But, one thing is for certain: his passing was missed.
United had just 35% possession at Anfield last season – a record low for the club since Opta started measuring the data – and that total only increased by 3% on Saturday.
Their retention of the ball might not have dramatically increased if Pogba was on the field, but at least he would have been positive and looked to link up with Romelu Lukaku.
That may have given those endless heatmaps and XG statistics a more healthy glow.
But, United have still equalled their best points tally after the first eight games of a Premier League season and Mourinho will have been the happier of the two managers with a point.
The Portuguese’s attitude towards these games is that if you need to push for a win, then why not just stop your rivals getting three precious points at home.
That is why this was far from a Mourinho masterclass because United, who had just six touches in the opposition box, did not snatch a victory.
United have drawn 0-0 with Liverpool on three occasions in Premier League history and, tellingly, two of those results have come under Mourinho.
But, aside from David de Gea’s scarcely believable save, United had a relatively trouble-free afternoon and now have a useful blueprint going forward.
Mourinho is now safe in the knowledge that on the odd occasion his side are seriously breached, he has, arguably, the world’s best goalkeeper to step in at pivotal moments.
That discipline, defensive shape and resilience is something they can fall back on – particularly on European away days – and some fans will feel it is justfied.
That may seem a strange statement given the manner in which United ripped apart ‘the best’ CSKA Moscow side Mourinho had faced in their own back yard last month.
But even Sir Alex Ferguson battened down the hatches at times. Barcelona ’08 anyone?
Tougher tests await, obviously, if United make the knockout stages, when they will encounter better attacking sides with more hostile atmospheres.
And that is where Mourinho comes into his own.
While memories of Porto’s 2004 Champions League win and Inter’s triumph over Bayern Munich six years later will live long in the memory, those finals will not necessarily serve as Mourinho’s epitaph.
Rather, it was that semi-final win against Barcelona in 2010 when Mourinho, at the peak of his managerial powers, pulled off his greatest achievement to date.
Beating one of the greatest teams of all-time, Barcelona, at the Nou Camp despite having 10 men for more than an hour. Despite having just 24% possession. Despite not having a single shot. On or off target.
That is the radical template that could yet serve United well.
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