Watching this game and analysing it retrospectively, it would have been easy to assume that Sir Alex Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish had locked heads pre‑match and settled for a cautious first period. Their selections mirrored each other's, with two Spanish goalkeepers, young English right-backs, Dirk Kuyt and Park workaholics on one flank, Stewart Downing and Ashley Young creators keeping the greater width, and Darren Fletcher and Lucas sitting in the middle.

Throw in a pair of lone front men, Luis Suárez and Danny Welbeck, and the shapes and systems collided. That was always likely to starve the occasion of spectacle and, while Liverpool settled the quicker, they were denied any real thrust in the final third. Phil Jones's shadowing of the clever Charlie Adam in midfield and Chris Smalling's tight attention to Downing, with Park Ji-sung doing likewise for José Enrique's forward runs, nullified threats. Liverpool were denied any real sustained possession but the speed, sense of occasion and tight challenging prompted erratic passing from both sides.

Welbeck, more mobile and nimble than traditional English centre-forwards such as Andy Carroll and Peter Crouch, Bobby Zamora or Emile Heskey, had little support. In fact, Jones often found himself as the furthest forward of the visitors' midfielders while tracking Adam. With Wayne Rooney starting on the bench, this was a huge challenge for the fast-improving United youngster. While Suárez is happiest receiving the ball in tight situations with his back to goal, engaging in jiggery-pokery to deceive his marker, Welbeck wants to turn and face defenders, tapping into his fine balance and speed. But, with only one front man to occupy them, the opposition centre-backs could get extra tight and, if possible, one could nick the ball in front of the attacker while his colleague covered comfortably behind.

At Anfield, Welbeck made some decent runs "in to out" to receive in advanced positions (see diagram) and was fed the ball regularly, usually by Smalling. But Skrtel was able to breathe down his neck while tracking the darts, with Jamie Carragher covering safely at his back. The United full-back played a couple of passes to coincide with the striker's run, but the strong Skrtel's close attentions won the ball.

United might have moved the ball the other way in that situation. If a mobile striker, like Welbeck, runs a centre-back out wide, the space that opens up and which may then be available is on the inside. It is there to exploit, particularly if the midfield has options. That is precisely what United had on Saturday, with Jones's man-marking duties stifling Adam but Park, Fletcher and Ryan Giggs also playing in that midfield third. In the diagram, Fletcher would have been free to receive from Smalling and shift the ball, via his team-mates, towards Young on the opposition flank. That tactic might have made more inroads into Liverpool's rearguard.

As it was, there was more urgency and thrust after the interval from both teams and, when Ferguson made his changes after Steven Gerrard's free-kick opener, United opened up and discarded their caution. In truth, the game as a spectacle disappointed, as might have been expected. But the armchair supporters around the world would still have been intrigued, and enjoyed the brand on view.