Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said Manchester United displayed the “best performance we have had” in a derby during his tenure as his side played out a dismal stalemate behind closed doors against Manchester City at Old Trafford.
In a game devoid of quality and excitement, neither side were able to carve out the opportunity that could make a difference amid the eerie silence of the so-called ‘Theatre Of Dreams’.
Gabriel Jesus was off target and Riyad Mahrez brought a routine save from David de Gea with City’s best first-half chances while Scott McTominay was agonisingly inches away from Victor Lindelof’s flick as United sought the breakthrough.
United defeated City three times in four meetings last season, including a league double over their rivals.
“Possession on the ball, control (was better),” said Solskjaer. “Of course I think last year at the Etihad we could have blown them away from the 10th to the 25th minute. We could have scored four goals.
“Some unbelievable counter-attacking football, but we had about 30% possession and that second half we were hanging on.
“You felt there were fewer moments to hang on today and we had more of the ball.
“Maybe that’s because they had more respect for us as well. I don’t know, but I’d like to think we’ve developed that side of it.
“And then today we just didn’t have enough to get those counter-attacks that we have.”
United thought they had a second-half penalty when Kyle Walker fouled Marcus Rashford but the decision was overturned as VAR revealed the United striker was offside.
It led to an unsatisfactory conclusion for both sides, leaving United seventh in the Premier League and City a place below them.
United respond to Champions League exit
Manchester United needed some sort of response after the despair and disappointment of their Champions League exit following the loss against RB Leipzig – defeat was not an option.
And that goal, at least, was achieved – but it was achieved in a real eyesore of a game and was only the flimsiest of straws that under-pressure boss Solskjaer and United could clutch at.
Paul Pogba was restored to the starting line-up to little or no effect but it would be unfair to single out the midfielder who seems permanently unsettled at Old Trafford, at least according to agent Mino Raiola, because barely anyone had a positive impact on a shocking spectacle.
De Gea was under the microscope after another expensive error in Germany but he, like City counterpart Ederson, had a quiet night.
He completed two straightforward saves from Mahrez’s first-half effort and Rodri’s injury-time shot but other than that was largely unemployed.
Solskjaer added: “Tactically we knew they were going to give us some problems but defensively we were excellent. I’m delighted with the defensive shape.
“With the ball we didn’t create as much as we wanted to. They probably had the bigger moments in open play, but everyone should be happy with a draw.”
It was that sort of game – although once more United’s £40m summer signing from Ajax Donny van de Beek was left to watch on from the bench perhaps wondering what he has to do to get a start.
Stones excels as City stay solid
Manchester City kept their sixth successive clean sheet since losing at Tottenham in November and it was a good night for John Stones in front of watching England manager Gareth Southgate.
The 26-year-old, who played in England’s run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals in Russia, has quietly rebuilt his form and confidence in the past few weeks and was impressive once again as United were kept at bay with relative ease.
Stones was comfortable on the ball but also did what he had to do when the straightforward defensive work was required as he continued the rehabilitation after his career looked to have stalled.
City manager Pep Guardiola showed faith to select Stones ahead of Aymeric Laporte, a sign of how satisfied he is with his form, and the defender did not let him down.
And while it is early days and Stones still has much work to do, the manner of his performance will not have gone unnoticed by Southgate, who has left Stones out of recent England squads but has an important vacancy to fill after the serious injury to Liverpool’s Joe Gomez.
This was a game which left few satisfied – but Stones will certainly be one of them.
Guardiola said: “They started well after we finished the first half well.
“We created three or four clear chances, you cannot expect many against a team like United and it was a good point in the end – it will be a good point in the future.
“United is always a strong team, this is Old Trafford and they are out of the Champions League. They score when they can run but we controlled them really well.”
United continue to stifle Sterling – the stats
- Manchester United are unbeaten against Manchester City in three games in all competitions (W2 D1), their best run without defeat against their derby rivals since March 2016.
- United have kept three consecutive clean sheets against City for the first time since a run of four in October 1995.
- This was just the fifth goalless draw between the Manchester sides in 47 Premier League meetings, with three of them coming in the past 11 clashes.
- United have failed to score in three home league games this season – one more than in the whole of last season.
- Three of the past four instances of City mustering fewer than 10 shots in a single Premier League away game have come at Old Trafford.
- Raheem Sterling extended his run of never scoring against Manchester United to 17 Premier League games, over 10 more games than he has faced any other side in the competition without a goal.
Manchester United visit Sheffield United on Thursday (20:00 GMT) before hosting Leeds on Sunday (16:30).
Manchester City are at home to West Brom on Tuesday (20:00) then travel to Southampton on Saturday (15:00).