By the half-hour mark, Nikica Jelavic and Steven Pienaar had drawn smart saves from De Gea; United, meanwhile, could boast only of a curling Wayne Rooney free-kick that Tim Howard helped around the post.
Everton’s approach – get the ball forward quickly to Fellaini and feed off the knockdowns, deliver crosses close to De Gea – was predictable but effective. From one hopeful lump forward the ball was half-cleared to Pienaar, whose shot from the edge of the area snuck through a crowd of players and was heading for the far corner until the Spaniard reacted quickly and pushed the ball to safety.
He had to make two other outstanding stops before the interval – one after another Everton high ball found Fellaini’s curls and Leon Osman swivelled to fire goalwards, another when Baines’ free-kick looked destined for the top corner – as concern in the Reds camp grew.
Ninety-nine sleeps had passed since Sir Alex’s men suffered heartbreak on the final day of last season and it seemed that, for long periods at Goodison Park, memories of that tumultuous day were still weighing heavy on the Reds.
Certainly, the free-flowing attacking football many expected barely surfaced, although Shinji Kagawa looked sharp on his debut and United could actually have gone into the break ahead had Danny Welbeck and Rooney finished half-chances. Instead, United had to graft in the middle of the park and grapple with Everton’s awkward aerial tactics.