Gameweek 10, Old Trafford: Manchester United and Manchester City played out a dull and drab but physical and highly competitive goal-less draw in the first Manchester Derby of the season, with both teams devoid of any attacking threat. The 170th Manchester Derby rightly earned to tag of the being the first goal-less derby in the last 5 years! The result reinstated United’s rivals to the top of the Barclays Premier League table leaving United in 4th place.
‘City the favorites from the start’
Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal stressed right after the Champions League midweek encounter in Moscow that his Manchester counterparts had the edge going into the Derby, since they would be fresh after playing their European fixture at home- City faced Sevilla at home, emerging victorious with Kevin De Bruyne scoring the crucial second goal
You have to ask the fans who are the favorites. It’s not so important who is the favorite. If you look at the facts, they are first. They are the favorites I think! We are second or third, there is a goal difference and a point difference, so I think they are the favorites. We have one day less [to prepare after Moscow flight] but we have to do it and that’s what we’re doing. We hope we can beat City.
The United camp definitely looked upbeat about the injuries to the squad, even though Van Gaal confirmed the absence of winger Ashley Young. Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini though had a host of players out including the menacing duo of Sergio Aguero and David Silva. Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri and Fabian Delph were the other notable long-term absentees.
Manchester United started with a strong starting line up, with Valencia replacing regular right back Darmian. Memphis Depay’s exclusion from the first team concluded in a strong United lineup, with Ander Herrera, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial occupying attacking positions behind Wayne Rooney. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin taking up the every crucial centre midfield roles. The visitors on the other hand started strong wide-men, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne with Fernando and Fernandinho adding steam to the powerful engine of a midfield. The combination of Yaya Toure and Wifried Bony was another proposition Pellegrini hoped could add another dimension to City’s already attacking threat!
City asking the early questions
This cracking fixture has brought the fans excitement and goals galore in recent times, with moments of sublime beauty but somehow the way the game started its fate of not living up to its tag started becoming apparent. Both teams started with much of the ball being contested in the middle of the park with both defenses performing their responsibilities in spectacular fashion. Marcus Rojo was constantly looking to run down the left to support Martial and Rooney, with Smalling and Jones standing ground and not allowing Bony to create any significant opportunities. Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling made inviting runs before misplacing passes in the final third. Yaya Toure constantly drove forward to support City’s wingers. But it was Otamendi and Kompany whose stellar and rock-solid performance neutralized United’s early intent.
Wayne Rooney despite being playing as a centre-forward found himself dragging deep into midfield, misplacing passes and losing possession cheaply. Anthony Martial looked to carry much of United’s threat but it looked like he found himself too far from goal to really cause any significant threat to City’s defense. Around the 30 minute mark, he did well to cut inside and beat two players but then he’s still 30 yards from goal when he lays the ball off! Martial’s threat is significantly greater when he is played further forward, and with the physical presence of Fernandinho and Fernando he was finding it difficult to dictate the play for the hosts.
In terms of chances, City edged it with half-chances falling for Yaya Toure, with his header from a De Bruyne corner going past De Gea’s right hand post, before he fluffed another opportunity from 15 yards after being played by the Belgium play-maker. Both teams desperately tried to get into good positions, but their final delivery failed them. The game was definitely missing the likes of David Silva and Paul Scholes who could create that something extra out of nothing. There was a clear lack of composure in the final third, which was evident as both teams went into half-time with no shots on target- only the second game of the season having a 0-0 scoreline after the 45 minutes. The first game also involved Manchester United when Liverpool visited Old Trafford in their eventual 3-1 triumph!
United respond with some momentum
The 2nd half started relatively brightly as compared to the first. Manchester United started on the ascend with Van Gaal’s side creating clear cut goal-scoring opportunities. The first of those opportunities fell to Ander Herrera on 49 minutes as his shot was deflected wide before Sterling survived a penalty scare following a clumsy challenge on the Spaniard. Smalling nodded wide from the resulting corner after Morgan Schneiderlin desperately close to connecting it before it flashed wide.
United attacked with far greater intensity and aggression with Anthony Martial’s pace to run at the City defenders failing to convert into clear cut chances. The City defense was definitely were a lot more organized as they were able to thwart most of United’s attacking play. Van Gaal looked towards his bench and introduced Marouane Felliani and Lingard replacing the ineffective Juan Mata and Bastian Schweinsteiger as the clock edged towards the 70 minute mark.
Jesse Lingard used his pace effectively to find pockets of space in the final third. The local lad, almost stole the headlines in dramatic fashion as an exquisite long ball over the top from Anthony Martial found the cracking run of Jesse Lingard managing to get there before Joe Hart could and acrobatically clipped a shot against the top of the crossbar! Chris Smalling added further spice by shooting low after being set up by Felliani’s touch down only to be denied by a fine one-handed diving save from Hart, before the curtains were brought on the stalemate.
Man of the Match- Nicolas Otamendi
Powerful and a strong presence alongside City captain Vicent Kompany, the summer signing from Valencia was well organized and on the top of his game. Otamendi’s performance underlines City’s intent to defend effectively. He and Kompany together ensured that United were kept quiet. It is finally looking like the big centre back is starting to find his feet after a rather indifferent start in the Premier League.
Carling Cup action continues in midweek with Manchester United hosting Middlesbrough following which the Red Devils will be making the tricky trip to London, facing a resolute Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park! Both managers would have taken a point-a-piece before the start of the game but it is all a points business and United will need to take maximum points from the top four sides if they have any chance of proving themselves to be title contenders this season.