Manchester United and Manchester City settled for a 0-0 draw Sunday in a game that was far more frantic than skilled. The result took City back up to the top of the Premier League table, albeit only on goal difference, and left United in fourth, just two points behind.
The Manchester derby was, for a short time this century, the biggest game on the English calendar. Its luster has dimmed considerably with the collapse of the post-Ferguson United and the dominance visited upon them by the blue side of the city. Still, with both clubs atop the Premier League table and the Red Devils at least starting to resemble a team under Louis van Gaal, this game at least promised excitement on paper.
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Unfortunately, the game failed to deliver. This was a dull slog that saw the two sides cancel one another out. The goalkeepers were not seriously tested today and the match will be better remembered as perhaps the last big game to feature Wayne Rooney. Rooney was abject on the day, looking all of his 30 years, and it is hard to see him playing a critical role for United for much longer.
There was little to remark upon in a first half that saw both midfields cancel one another out and both keepers remained untroubled. While United arguably had the better of the play, this was thin gruel indeed. Anthony Martial was the lone standout for either side in the first half, with a couple surging direct runs that ultimately earned him a vicious tackle on the endline from Vincent Kompany.
Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne were neutralized completely by United's back line, with the wide men unable to truly deliver quality service. De Bruyne's single decent cross of the first half, a ball in to Yaya Toure with time and space, probably should have forced David De Gea to make a play, but instead it ended up over the bar and into the photographers' pit.
If City were tepid, then what could be said about United? Little more. Rooney consistently conceded possession up top and aside from martial, there was little to suggest that United could find any way to break through.
But the second half showed a bit more. Ander Herrera was at the center of the first true incident, when he was felled by Sterling in the box off a short corner. Ref mark Clattenburg had a long look but waved it away -- on another day, that penalty might have been given. Then, off another corner, Chris Smalling popped a header right across the face of goal but Morgan Schneiderlin was unable to provide the final touch to put it into the back of the net.
Bastian Schweinsteiger made his presence felt in spurts but City were very good at sweeping up the messes, with Joe Hart cutting out more than a couple of fine crosses and Nicolas Otamendi putting in a shift with some key blocks. Yet there was precious little support for any offense, at all.
City offered less, if that was possible. Wilfried Bony was effective in the first half in holding up play, only to disappear in the second. The absence of Sergio Aguero was keenly felt as well, as with Toure increasingly pushed back as a shield, there was little City could do to break the pressure. When Toure was finally pulled for center-back Martin Demichelis, it was clear the sides were ready to settle for a point.
United did mount a late, if tame, flurry. Sub Jesse Lingard looked like scoring, slipping behind City's back four with six minutes to play -- only to poke his shot onto the crossbar. And Smalling did force a fine but routine save out of Hart at his near post before the match creaked into stoppage time.