A dull derby to forget

Manchester United's Ander Herrera appealing for a penalty after a challenge by City's Raheem Sterling. Chris Smalling headed marginally wide from Juan Mata's resulting corner, providing one of the game's few moments of excitement.
Manchester United's Ander Herrera appealing for a penalty after a challenge by City's Raheem Sterling. Chris Smalling headed marginally wide from Juan Mata's resulting corner, providing one of the game's few moments of excitement.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Hart and crossbar come to City's rescue at the end as defensive tactics dominate boring draw

ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE

Manchester United 0

Manchester City 0

LONDON • After the dramatic derbies, a distinctly dull affair.

Manchester United and Manchester City have delivered the footballing equivalent of blockbusters, action-packed encounters with spectacular scorelines such as 4-3, 1-6 and 4-2. But this was the sorry sequel, devoid of drama and where supposedly compelling plot lines came to nothing.

The few hints of excitement came in the final few minutes when United substitute Jesse Lingard volleyed Anthony Martial's chipped pass onto the bar and another replacement, Marouane Fellaini, set up Chris Smalling for a shot Joe Hart saved.

Yet the game, at Old Trafford, got the outcome it deserved.

If City were relieved, this mundane stalemate may suit them more. They can content themselves with the knowledge they retain their two-point lead over their neighbours, and more importantly, lead Arsenal on goal difference at the top of the standings.

Their limited ambition was summed up when Yaya Toure was replaced by Martin Demichelis, with the centre-back coming to further bolster an already physical midfield.

If United hoped City would go gung-ho and allow them to pick them off on the counter-attack, they were disappointed.

Rather, these were two teams in studious mode, eyeing each other in the search for a frailty. There were few, partly because neither side were at their most potent.

Given their injuries, City may merit more sympathy but Raheem Sterling was so subdued he was removed with 35 minutes remaining. Wilfried Bony offered little more in attack and City were left to rue the absence of the sidelined pair of David Silva and Sergio Aguero.

Yet United were little brighter. Wayne Rooney looked out of sorts, as he does too often these days.

His poor touch could not be attributed to his 30th birthday celebrations on Saturday. He had his head stapled after a collision with Vincent Kompany, but this was an occasion when United required finesse as well as bravery.

Rooney's deployment as the main striker meant the livelier Martial was used on the left and the youngster had the verve to render him United's main threat just as Kevin de Bruyne, also from the flanks, offered City's best outlet.

United belatedly stirred in the second half. Ander Herrera claimed a penalty when caught by Raheem Sterling and, from Juan Mata's resulting corner, Smalling headed fractionally wide.

Hart sprinted off his line to stop Mata reaching a through ball, but these would barely have rated a moment in the highlights reels of past derbies. It was a rare alarm for the City goalkeeper, who was not really required until Smalling's 87th-minute shot.

Pellegrini had afforded him some protection. The Chilean manager displayed some common sense and, putting their differences aside, restored Kompany to the heart of the City defence.

The captain excelled as City kept a first clean sheet since his last league game, at Crystal Palace six weeks ago.

Pellegrini's side had solidity, but not their trademark style.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2015, with the headline 'A dull derby to forget'. Print Edition | Subscribe