Well, that was…something.
In terms of narrative, Manchester United and Chelsea have plenty in common. Both teams possess expensively-constructed, star-studded squads, and expectations continue to grow with each passing, unsatisfactory season.
Oh yeah, and they are both managed by club legends who would be fortunate to still be in a job in any other circumstances. Frank Lampard, who admittedly bought himself some deserved time with a decent first campaign in charge, is struggling to get his tactics right following a huge influx of attacking stars in the summer.
But the 66 points and 54 goals conceded last year (the same number he shipped as Derby County coach, ironically) suggest that he’s been having these issues for his entire managerial career. And now, the pressure is building.
Hundreds of millions spent (not necessarily on the right areas of the squad), and there can be no excuses for failure to improve. Success is no longer an option, it’s an imperative.
The same goes across at Old Trafford, too. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appears to spend his existence as Man Utd boss living on the cusp of the sack, one misplaced foot away from the jagged rocks under the cliff edge. That must take its toll.
The impressive victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League will undoubtedly have bought him another month of relief, but disappointing defeats in the Premier League could drag him straight back to the precipice. Not to mention, the fashion in which they clinched that success, with deep defending and counter-attacking football, is not exactly ‘The Manchester United way’.
So, with both teams under the cosh, and both managers feeling the heat, a lot was riding on this 90 minutes. And couldn’t we tell.
The Red Devils and the Blues served up the ultimate display of stage fright, fear of the unknown, and a general lack of heart. Not that neither side wanted to win – far from it. They wanted to win so much, that they lost that carefree edge which makes football fun and worth watching.
Lampard has gone back to basics with this Chelsea team, and his midweek 0-0 draw with Sevilla was the first sign of the shackles being whacked back on. A back five, with two industrious and offensively limited midfielders left all the goalscoring responsibility resting on the shoulders of the expensively assembled front three of Christian Pulisic, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner.
It felt as if Lampard had pulled this one straight out of the Gareth Southgate playbook of ruining fun.
Pulisic and Havertz played much deeper than they would have preferred, and ultimately this left Werner as a one-man band up top. It was eight defenders and three forwards – and it was rubbish. That lack of intent could be seen in the home side, too.
Adventurous trio Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood were used as second half substitutes, while summer signing Donny van de Beek didn’t even make it onto the turf.
All of this negativity culminated in one of the most turgid matches of Premier League football you’re likely to see – and that’s during the most entertaining campaign of all (statistically speaking, of course).
Both teams lacked ambition, they lacked the bravery to take a risk in order to win the match, and they lacked the tactical base from which they could attack. Basically, they lacked bottle.
And this could not have been a more appropriate mirror image of their two coaches, each unable to find a healthy and winning balance in their team. It was gutless, frustrating, and plain boring.
In the end, both managers will praise their defensive solidity on a difficult night in tricky circumstances, and curse the luck they needed and missed to get over the line. And they will feel as if this point is a step in the right direction, alleviating the pressure for the time being.
That should be far from the truth, however. The duo have shown that even with their adversary suffering an identity crisis, they remain unable to outdo an equally inept tactician.
A point gained, perhaps – but there were certainly no winners, in every sense of the word.