While Claudio Ranieri would consider a fixture wasted if he could not insinuate some eccentricity into it, his successor Jose Mourinho is wedded to practicality. His triumphant Porto side could come up with flourishes in the midst of their conservatism and Chelsea will surely do likewise eventually but the Stamford Bridge project is barely begun.
We might have read the character of this match in dispatches from the Harlington training ground that told of Mourinho's tantrum when he stopped a practice game in which a forward had been left one on one with a defender. The squad must have listened because Manchester United never enjoyed so promising a position here.
If the match was measured by statistics, United, with all their passes and territorial control, would have merited a point. In truth, though, those calculations are tantamount to self-deception. Can a mishit drive by Paul Scholes, a Quinton Fortune cross that zipped through the six-yard box or off-target headers from John O'Shea and Ryan Giggs really be presented as an onslaught?
There should come a time when they will dispute the claim that they are markedly inferior to Arsenal and Chelsea but until then United must concentrate on keeping themselves in contention. They have to avoid the sort of string of egregious errors that led to the goal yesterday.