Manchester United and Manchester City played out a tedious 0-0 draw at Old Trafford that did few favours for either side if they aspire to get back into the title race.
Hosts United might be rather happier with their point, one which will at least temporarily halt questions over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s future following their Champions League exit in midweek. Certainly City would have cause to be disappointed with both the result and the passive way in which they approached their task.
Read the key talking points from the game below.Safety first City leave much to be desired
There was something of the late period all-conquering Spain of Euro 2012 to this City team and the tedious domination they applied. Perhaps even that is a generous assessment because while Vicente Del Bosque’s side may not have won universal admiration you always sensed they would manipulate games in their favor even if only by boring their opponents into submission.
At Old Trafford, City were sterile rather than clinical. In the first half they created perhaps three prime goal scoring opportunities, two coming from incisive Kevin De Bruyne through balls. First Raheem Sterling ghosted past Aaron Wan-Bissaka and sent more United defenders tumbling only for their combined mass to block his shot before a few minutes later Riyad Mahrez went too close to David De Gea.
Gabriel Jesus spurned the half’s best chance, failing to make the right connection with a lofted Mahrez pass, but you could perhaps understand his wastefulness when he had been so isolated.
For too much of the game City cycled possession between the back four, Fernandinho and Rodri, perhaps fearful of what might happen if they overcommitted and left gaps for Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood to exploit.
The truth is that City at their best press opponents with an intensity and ferocity that makes it far more likely they will win the ball high up the pitch than get beaten by the long ball over the top. That this team don’t chase possession as they once did – curious on this occasion when Jesus, described by Guardiola as the world’s best pressing striker – rather means that they have to keep more numbers in reserve.
As such, City were more reliant than ever in Guardiola’s tenure on moments of individual brilliance. That is not the worst strategy when you can call upon De Bruyne, Mahrez and Sterling but it is perhaps disappointing that this team played less like a collective than in the past.Solskjaer gets his tactics right… at first
The most consistent, most damning piece of criticism levelled at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer over the past year has been that his side does not have a formation, let alone a philosophy, that is identifiably theirs. Players come and go, getting dropped and returning to the side with no sense of what their role is and things inevitably break down, even against opponents United should beat.
That is perhaps why fortress Old Trafford has been anything but this season, when the only team they have beaten at home in the Premier League has been West Bromwich Albion.
Yet, in a way, games against the likes of City suit Solskjaer. Basic principles of course help but when you are facing a team that is largely superior to you grand plans go out of the window to tailor a team to do the most damage to your opposition.
To Solskjaer’s credit they largely did that with a curious 4-2-3-1 that saw Paul Pogba operate as a left winger and Bruno Fernandes supporting Marcus Rashford through the middle. What initially seemed to be a diamond that would invite City to rout the flanks was something rather shrewder indeed.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Pep Guardiola
Building play in the sizeable space behind Riyad Mahrez, Pogba was often the man charged with progressing the ball from United’s half into City’s, something he did rather impressively. Certainly a player whose agent began the week saying it was time for a parting of ways did not appear to have checked out. His shrewd passes over the top looked to be the best avenue to the hosts either getting a counter or forcing a set piece, their only realistic avenues to a goal.
It did not quite work but there were moments when they were just a pass away, most notably when Fernandes undercooked a through ball to Rashford after brilliant build-up play under pressure from City.
It felt all the more curious then that when the second half began Fernandes drifted to the left with Pogba stepping infield. Defensively the switch offered more ballast with the Frenchman more naturally suited to sitting close to Fernandinho and Rodri but United missed his build-up in wider areas and Fernandes willingness to test City’s defensive line alongside Rashford.
By the time Solskjaer switched back much of the impetus United had was lost, particularly with Ferran Torres’ introduction asking more of Luke Shaw. Notable performances
Kyle Walker: On this occasion VAR saved his blushes but Walker keeps making clumsy recovery tackles such as the one that would otherwise have handed Marcus Rashford a penalty early in the first half. He equally struggled to get forward in attack with Pogba and Fernandes stationed on his flank. RATING: 3
Harry Maguire: If there is a type of game that suits the United captain it might be this: backs to the walls, defend deep, impose yourself on undersized forwards. He did that rather impressively, leading his team in interceptions and shots blocked, winning all his aerial duels and making several important clearances and tackles. RATING: 7
Gabriel Jesus: One moment rather crystallized the doubts Jesus’ critics have over whether he can really be an elite center forward. The ball broke to the Brazilian behind the United defense and although the angle was awkward for a first time shot it was curious that he opted to shield it from De Gea and tee up De Bruyne for a more difficult shot. He seems to lack the remorseless streak that makes for the truly top level forwards. RATING: 4Premier League picture
United find themselves seventh in the Premier League with 20 points, four fewer than league leaders Tottenham. City are just a point and a place back