Including on the benches, there was over £1 billion worth of footballing talent getting very wet at Old Trafford. Goodness knows what sort of outlay is required these days to buy a bit of entertainment.
In the sort of weather that had Noah reaching for his hammer and nails, this was a stinker, a determined counter to the theory that the Premier League has, in the absence of fans, become a reckless goal fest. It was probably just as well there weren’t any supporters in the stadium to witness this encounter, the demand for a refund on tickets would have added yet further pressure to Manchester United’s diminishing bottom line. It was hardly a surprise when a group of those few allowed into the stands to watch left with 10 minutes still remaining.
In a sense it was entirely predictable. Two managers suffering from defensive frailty, sacrificing all attacking intent to ensure no further blunders. For Frank Lampard the main issues have been between the posts. In their last league game against Southampton a winning position was squandered by Kepa’s howlers.
The good news for Chelsea fans was that, if nothing else, Edouard Mendy, the man brought in to replace him, sounds a lot more in control. His basso profundo instructions boomed around the empty stands. Though sometimes his yelling was provoked as much by his need to chastise himself for his poor distribution as to tick off his colleagues. Not least for the howler when he miskicked a back pass which squirmed just beyond his far post.
But Lampard must have been relieved that in conditions in which the ball was so slippery it should have been standing for parliament, he proved himself a more than capable shot stopper. One save, as Marcus Rashford belted through on to Juan Mata’s pass, was critical. Another diving away to palm Mata’s shot behind was athletic, while the dive to turn away Rashford’s shot at the end of normal time was executed with the kind of authority wholly lacking from Kepa’s most recent performances.
Not that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side gave him the most pressing of examinations, particularly in the first half when the attack was so anaemic you feared it needed an immediate blood test. It was hardly a surprise they were so blunt, when the Manchester United manager reckoned, with Paul Pogba, Edison Cavani and Mason Greenwood all available, Daniel James was the man to break down Chelsea.
The tactical plan was simple: to play it long in behind the Chelsea defence for James to run on to. The trouble was, the young winger is so lacking in confidence he appeared not entirely sure what to do when played in. Generally, as soon as he met the first Chelsea defender he gave up. Once when sent away by Luke Shaw’s astute through ball he just kept running until he could surrender possession tamely. At which point he fell over. The next time Shaw made an incursion forward, he saw James ahead of him so cut inside and passed the ball backwards. The Welshman’s most assured run was when he trotted off to be replaced by the debutant Edinson Cavani.
Up in the stands, as the two teams cancelled each other out by passing the ball across the centre circle with little suggestion they might threaten each other’s goal, Gareth Southgate must have wondered why he was there. Presumably, he had come to compare two of the many challengers for the England right-back position.
In amongst the country’s surfeit of right-sided talent, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Reece James offer very different possibilities. Wan-Bissaka was set on impressing Southgate with his tackling. It was his kind of surface, one for the slide. When he skimmed across it to steal the ball from Ben Chilwell you feared he would still be sliding by the time United kick off in their Champions League game against RB Leipzig next week.
James, though, offers more at the other end of the pitch. His crosses, one of which almost allowed Christian Pulisic in at the far post, suggested he might be further up the queue if Southgate is looking for attacking zest. It was that kind of game: when the right-backs are the principal point of interest.