An early season opportunity for the two Manchester giants to stamp their authority on the Premier League and send a message to the watching public ended in a dull 0-0 draw. The stalemate couldn’t have been further from the expectations of the crowd and the millions that tuned in to watch the match worldwide.
With the early season faltering from Chelsea and the fact that Arsenal always seem like a team that cannot be consistent enough to win the league, these two sides are arguably the two title favourites. Louis Van Gaal has managed to get his team playing well and they responded to a 3-0 humbling at Arsenal before the international break with a commanding 3-0 win against Everton. City on the other hand have been the early season pace setters as the likes of Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Nicolas Otamendi have settled in well following their big money moves to the Etihad.
After the day’s first big derby had finished 3-0 – with Sunderland beating Newcastle amidst some big talking points – there was an air of excitement about this match, with both teams knowing a good result could put them top of the league.
As it happened, the teams failed to show any of the spark or star quality that they have managed on occasion previously. City were missing two of their most influential players with David Silva and Sergio Aguero both sidelined through injury. Manager Manuel Pellegrini opted to play De Bruyne and Sterling out wide, with Yaya Toure playing centrally behind Wilfried Bony. United meanwhile had hotshot striker Anthony Martial out wide with Ander Herrera behind Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata on the other flank.
Yet neither attacking quartet could get the better of their defensive opponents. Otamendi had a great game and silenced Rooney, who put in yet another sluggish performance and failed to celebrate his 30th birthday in style. At the other end of the pitch Marcos Rojo played brilliantly too and managed to ensure that De Bruyne and then substitute Jesus Navas remained peripheral figures.
There were two chances of real note towards the end of the game when first of all youngster Jesse Lingard was denied by the crossbar after being played in by Martial, before Chris Smalling’s effort following Marouane Fellaini’s knock down was stopped smartly by England ‘keeper Joe Hart.
In the end, neither manager will be disappointed with the performance of their respective side. They will also be accepting of the result. Van Gaal will know that a little bit more luck could have swung the game in United’s favour, but he will be content with the fact that United didn’t lose the derby. Pellegrini and Manchester City will be happy to be back at the top of the league table after getting through this test unscathed, having lost 4-2 at Old Trafford last season.
United fans will know that they have matched the title favourites, and they’ll know that with some improvements to the side they can consider themselves to be serious contenders for the title this season. But all fans of the two sides will go back to their usual business this week with neither set of supporters being able to claim bragging rights.
It is rare that this contest ends level. It is rarer still that Manchester United fail to score at home. However, history means nothing in a derby and these two giants of English football share the spoils after this 0-0 draw. It didn’t cover the Premier League in glory, and many will point out that derbies in Spain for example are generally more entertaining, but it did show that the city rivals are as well matched as everybody thought – if not more so.