A Manchester derby that promised so much delivered precious little as City and United ground out a goalless stalemate at Eastlands.
At least for Roberto Mancini's men there was no injury-time heartache after suffering three such defeats last term.
For United, who controlled long periods, their unbeaten run in all competitions now stretches to 25 games.
In truth, the result only suited Chelsea, giving credence to Mancini's belief that these warring factions are actually scrapping for second spot at best.
United old-boy Carlos Tevez came closest to scoring with a first-half free-kick that was clawed out by Edwin van der Sar, the visitors left to lament those wasteful days at Fulham and Everton earlier in the season which mean they are now four points adrift of the leaders.
As the virus that has swept through the United camp had eased sufficiently for all bar Ryan Giggs to report for duty, Ferguson must have been quite pleased with his selection.
Giggs' loss was significant in the sense it robbed this edition of an old-fashioned blood and thunder Mancunian set-to of a constant presence since his debut, 33 games ago in 1991. As it turned out, this was a good one to miss.
It left United with plenty of experience though, which they used to its maximum during a disappointing opening period which they largely controlled without being able to carve out the opportunity they craved.
One decent chance did come their way, when one of a number of neat passing moves ended with Park Ji-sung feeding a ball into the City box for Patrice Evra to chase.
Had Evra been able to step round Kolo Toure and shoot with his left foot, the hosts would have been in trouble.
As it was, the Frenchman had to let fly with his right and Joe Hart made a comfortable save.
For their part, City were equally bereft, which was frustrating for supporters, who clearly expected more of Yaya Toure in particular given the frustration they expressed every time their big-money summer signing from Barcelona wasted possession, as he seemed to do quite frequently.
There was almost half an hour on the clock before they built up any momentum, with the industrious James Milner chief instigator.
It was United old-boy Carlos Tevez who came closest to breaking the deadlock though, after Paul Scholes had bundled Milner over on the edge of the area.
Tevez quickly made it clear the free-kick would be his responsibility and only its relative lack of pace allowed Edwin van der Sar to claw the ball out as it headed for the far corner.
Aside from a Nani free-kick that also lacked pace and a mis-timed Dimitar Berbatov volley, both of which bounced harmlessly through to Hart, one of five starters being watched by Fabio Capello ahead of England's friendly with France next week, that was it for the goalmouth action.
Indeed, the only other notable moment was the foul by Scholes on Milner just before the break which resulted in a fifth yellow card of the season, ruling him out of Saturday's trip to Aston Villa.
The pattern continued after the restart, with Berbatov getting his clearest sight of goal, albeit with his back to it as he hooked Wes Brown's cross goalwards without being able to test Hart.
Tevez threatened twice at the other end, the first time with a shot that Van der Sar gathered easily, the second a burst that ended with a dismal miscontrol and the ball bobbling out for a goal kick.
It was that type of match really, with Tevez too isolated and David Silva too far below his potential for City to become the sum of their expensively-assembled parts.
Adam Johnson seemed like an obvious man for Mancini to turn to and his introduction for Milner 20 minutes from time instantly brought the width his side had been so devoid of.
As Javier Hernandez was given his first taste of derby day shortly afterwards, a rousing finish to an otherwise forgettable encounter was promised.
Unfortunately, it did not quite work out that way.
Pablo Zabaleta almost profited from a mistake by John O'Shea, but did not. Hernandez almost got a clear sight of goal before Kolo Toure blocked his path.
It was that kind of night.