As he squinted through the relentless Old Trafford downpour for signs of encouragement, entertainment or life in general, Frank Lampard must have recoiled at a familiar sight.
Chelsea’s goalkeeper had done something comical.
Edouard Mendy moved to Stamford Bridge from Rennes due to Kepa Arrizabalaga becoming hazardously accident prone.
Back in the side after a thigh-injury absence gave Kepa the change to add to his expanding portfolio of gaffes during the raucous 3-3 draw against Southampton, the 28-year-old Mendy kept a clean sheet in the midweek Champions League draw against Sevilla.
Half an hour had been played on Saturday when Mendy compromised his chances of another, turning and inexplicably passing the ball just wide of his right post. Manchester United only having a corner was something of a relief.
Perhaps Mendy wanted to give himself something to do. Goalmouth incidents had been few and far between in a game where each side decided dressing up as the Michelin Man was the best way to protect their glass jaws. Caution reigned in the rain.
But five minutes after his dalliance with slapstick, the Chelsea keeper stood firm to impressively deny Marcus Rashford with his right boot after Juan Mata released the England forward.
Roles were reversed before the break, with Rashford darting in from the left and Mata striking sweetly from the edge of the box. Mendy tipped assuredly around the post.
Excellent save by Mendy!
Rashford was through on goal but couldn’t get his effort past the out-stretched legs of Mendy!
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) October 24, 2020
Lampard’s preference for his goalkeeper to build play from the back presents Mendy with a learning process. In Ligue 1 last season. 56.7 per cent of his passes were classified as long balls, with 21 per cent of his goal kicks finding a team-mate.
At Old Trafford, he completed 17 of 23 passes (73.9 per cent), with only three passes into the opposition half – a definite step in the right direction despite trying conditions.
Mendy also looked to have his angles right when Edinson Cavani stole in at the near post to flick into the side netting from his first touch in a United shirt. The veteran Uruguay striker coming close to a dream start in England briefly raised the temperature of a dour contest.
In the Sky Sports studio, Patrice Evra might have compared Harry Maguire’s headlock on Cesar Azpilicueta at a 40th-minute corner (the lack of a penalty in this VAR age was stupefying) to Hulk Hogan, but the general torpor of the occasion was more suited to The Undertaker.
It was a match that felt like a thick hangover from the goal-laden excess of the Premier League’s opening weeks. Perhaps a realisation that, after all those ding-dong affairs, we enter the bleak British winter this weekend and a long, hard slog awaits.
What, exactly, do the division’s big hitters have to show for indulging in this early-season free-for-all? Exhausted from demands across multiple competitions and a compressed close season, all the usual front-runners are floundering to some extent.
United have no wins from three home games and sit 15th, three places below neighbours Manchester City, who have had their worst start for six years and are level with Tottenham on eight points from five matches.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 24, 2020
Liverpool had the chance to pull level with leaders Everton by the end of Saturday, but they have had a historic 7-2 defeat to Aston Villa and a probable season-ending injury to Virgil van Dijk for their troubles.
Chelsea are sixth, having won two out of six. It might be time for all to take a breath and fall back on fundamentals, such as a reliable goalkeeper.
Mendy might have flirted with disaster but the best of his four saves – springing to push Rashford’s stoppage-time drive out of the top left corner – meant he emerged with a second shutout this week. Lampard will hope he has found his Mr Dependable.