The Americans have long held that a draw is like kissing your sister, in which case a 0-0 draw must be akin to shaking hands with an aunt. Either way, two goalless draws this week have caught the eye, not for their entertainment value, which was negligible, but for the messages they conveyed regarding the present situations at Anfield and Old Trafford, where Manchester United and Liverpool meet tomorrow.
On Sunday Liverpool were glad to come away from a barren encounter with Birmingham City with a point, which was due in no small part to the goalkeeping of Pepe Reina. Two nights later Manchester United were held by Rangers in a scoreless start to their latest Champions League campaign, a result that owed something to the resilience of Walter Smith's massed defence but more to Sir Alex Ferguson making 10 changes and fielding the sort of team he might put out in the Carling Cup.
While the game at St Andrew's reaffirmed the lack of depth in Roy Hodgson's Liverpool squad, easy Europa League wins by the second string notwithstanding, the match at Old Trafford suggested that while Ferguson has stronger options, the foundations for future United teams are not as firm as they might be. Both managers will have a good idea of what they need but the debts their clubs have acquired under American ownership will have a strong bearing on what they actually get.
For Liverpool, this may be the season that will decide whether they are going to regain their status as one of Europe's leading teams or are about to become another Everton, drifting around in mid-table hoping that one of the elite has a sufficiently lean year to allow them a place in the top four and the chance to revive happier memories.
Manchester United have hardly reached that stage but with two of their best players, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, now the wrong side of 35 while their first-choice goalkeeper, Edwin van der Sar, will be 40 next month, it is going to take a mighty effort to turn the team around while keeping up appearances in the Premier and Champions Leagues. Already the question nobody dares ask must be preying on more than a few minds: what happens when Ferguson decides to retire – and means it.
It is hard to imagine there ever coming a time when the younger part of United's support, those 25 and under say, will have no clear first-hand memories of their team winning the league. Much the same would have been said of Liverpool's fans in the 70s and 80s, yet this is the case now. Liverpool have not been champions since 1990. They did not win the 2005 Champions League as actual champions, having finished fourth the previous season 30 points behind the winners, Arsenal. Hillsborough left an emotional scar from which Anfield has never fully recovered.
Watching Manchester United's occasionals struggle to find the wit, as well as the width, to break down Rangers on Tuesday, it was hard to avoid wondering how their youthful predecessors of the early 90s would have coped. On a clear October evening at St James' Park in 1994, Ferguson fielded a side laced with young unknowns against Kevin Keegan's rising Newcastle side in the Coca-Cola Cup. Newcastle won with two late goals but up to that point United's kids had dominated the tie.
Where did Ferguson find this spiky, red-haired midfielder who had come close to playing Peter Beardsley out of the game, name of Nicky Butt? And there was that 19-year-old who must have been born with a football brain, Paul Scholes, not to mention the lad with a right foot made in heaven – well, Leytonstone anyway – David Beckham.
Even before Antonio Valencia had suffered his horrible leg and ankle injuries, there was not a lot in United's performance against Rangers to prompt the idea that this was greatness in the making. After Matt Busby's side had won the league in 1967 and the European Cup the following season, the decline was swift and Manchester United were relegated in 1974. Clearly, there is little danger of that happening now but a failure to qualify for the Champions League has become the financial equivalent of relegation and will be a concern the longer the talented young limbs of the past are required to keep up with the less gifted but fresher legs of the present.
This is comment. GNM does not necessarily support the views expressed.