After all the conjecture, build-up, and a mild hangover from the international break, Liverpool and Manchester United took centre stage: a beautiful fixture of the English game with a rich tapestry of tradition and tribalism to pick from. In truth, it required little preamble: Liverpool-Manchester is deeply intense and often cagey.

It was no different on Saturday: pace without much precision, as the vast majority of Premier League matches are. After a leaden start the first half was relatively entertaining, with box-to-box action, but, for all the scrutiny about Liverpool’s leaky defense and Eric Bailly’s absence at the heart of the visitors’ defense, chances were at a premium.

At the end of the half Romelu Lukaku squandered a major chance. With some excellent one-touch passing from Antony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan Manchester passed their way through Liverpool’s defense, but Lukaku, always seemingly a touch slow on the ball, whacked his shot all too close to Mignolet, who palmed the ball away. The Belgian striker’s pedigree has been questioned in the marquee fixtures.

On the face of it, Lukaku is the quintessential flat-track bully. The Belgian pesters defenses from inferior teams, but is found wanting when it matters - against the biggest teams. The summer signing didn’t offer his team an outlet as Manchester United struggled on the counter. However, Mkhitaryan was anonymous in the first half and the service to Lukaku was poor.

Perhaps the Belgian should also have been sent-off by then. Nemanja Matic had come close for the visitors with a rasping shot in the 29th minute, but for most of the 90 minutes, Manchester United scarcely tested Liverpool’s wobbly defense, who in the end got a rare clean sheet.

Lack of penetration

At the other end, Liverpool were frenetic, but also without too much penetration. Indeed, where has all the Gegenpressing gone? The high pressing all over the pitch was there, but that decisiveness of the individual players during the transition of play was often lacking. Philippe Coutinho looked a far cry from the player who had bounced back from the transfer fiasco over the last few weeks, while Roberto Firmino barely contributed up front.

Still, Manchester United invited endless pressure. To little surprise, Jose Mourinho’s team was very limited in its ambition, a draw and a point the objective of their endeavours. The Portuguese was delivering another of his ‘PTB’ masterclasses.

The substitutions revealed the diverging ambitions of the managers. Liverpool needed and craved a win, Manchester United were all too happy to settle for a draw. Late on in the second half, Jurgen Klopp chose to refresh his attack pulling off the tiring, and ineffectual, Firmino, Coutinho and Mohammed Salah for Daniel Sturridge, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Dominic Solanke. He wanted that winner.

Mourinho, on the other hand, sought to protect his goalless advantage’. Mkhitaryan, who had little impact, was hauled for Jesse Lingard, renowned for his tracking-back abilities, while Antony Martial made way for Marcus Rashford. Then, with minutes left, Mourinho pulled off Ashley Young and threw on Victor Lindelof - hardly the man to count on for a last gasp winner!

Clear tactics

In the end, Manchester United’s heat map may well have been a photo of eleven parked buses. They didn’t even muster a proper attack for the entire second half. Matic was the only player with an occasional foot on the ball for Mourinho’s team. Much of the match was intriguing with Liverpool relentless pouring forward, but Manchester frustrated Klopp and co. At times, even the tedium was enchanting.

Still, the monotony and ennui of it all was predictable. Indeed, Mourinho’s big game approach often is, but Manchester United’s negative attitude yielded a result, so much so that with fifteen minutes left everything was set up for a peak Mourinho goal against the run of play. But, with Marouane Fellaini injured, that never materialized.

Could Paul Pogba - or at the other end Sadio Mane - have changed the match and its outcome? Probably not. These were two terrible halves of football. Queueing at an ATM or a trip to ‘Big Bazaar’ would have been more exciting. At the end of the 90 minutes there was only one pertinent: who can save English football and Mourinho?