A dull derby day draw. I was hoping for a more entertaining game to kick off my football blog with, but although the game wasn’t the classic we were hoping for, with just 3 shots and 2 on target from both sides, there was some interesting tactical battles to look at and delve into.
Both sides came into the game in decent runs of form. Although United had been easily swept aside by Arsenal at the start of the month, they had won their previous 5 games before the Emirates embarrassment and were very convincing in turning over Everton 3-0 last weekend. City had recovered from 2 successive defeats in the league to smash 6 past Newcastle and then 5 past Bournemouth. The blues had also got themselves back in contention in Europe, with vital late winners against both Mönchengladbach and Sevilla.
The formations were also similar, United made one change from the game at Goodison with Antonio Valencia replacing Matteo Darmian at right full back. Juan Mata also came back into the side after being given a rest by Louis van Gaal in Moscow on Wednesday. City had their star men, David Silva and Sergio Aguero out but were boosted by the return of captain Vincent Kompany and Aleksandar Kolarov to their back line. Fernando replaced Jesus Navas, allowing Yaya Toure to push more forward, but even though this looked like a defensive move, men in form Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling were obvious threats in attack. From the outlet it looked like both line ups were set in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
The first half was a complete non event, a real cagey affair, with United struggling to get the ball up to captain Wayne Rooney, and even when they did, the pairing of Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi dealt with it easily. However, Anthony Martial was causing trouble on the left, frequently drawing fouls leading to referee Mark Clattenburg taking the names of a couple of City players. Whereas at the other end of the pitch, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones kept Wilfried Bony very quiet, as did Marcos Rojo with the danger man De Bruyne. Neither goalkeeper had a shot to save and it was the first time United failed to muster a single shot in anger during the first half of a Premier League game since the 2003/2004 season.
The second half was much of the same, the crowd was surprisingly quiet, and reflected the mood on the pitch. The home side picked up slightly in the second half and attempted to raise the tempo but the blue rear guard stood firm and let nothing through. 10 minutes after the restart the disappointing Sterling was hooked with Navas his replacement, though the Spaniard made little impact. In fact it was the changes from United which nearly sparked the game into life. Marouane Fellaini was introduced for the tiring Bastian Schweinsteiger and Jesse Lingard entered for the surprisingly ineffective Juan Mata.
These two made the best chances of the game in the last 10 minutes. Lingard made an excellent run over the top and was picked out with a chip from Martial, though the academy product’s looping effort hit the bar before bouncing to safety. Then, with a couple of minutes to go, Ander Herrera, who had a claim for a penalty waved away earlier in the contest, pumped a free kick to the big Belgian Fellaini, his header down was met by Smalling, whose first time effort was well saved by Joe Hart down to his left. That was about that, if anything United shaded it but failed to find the killer ball, whilst on the other hand City defended what they had to. The away side came for a point and got exactly that.
The real battle of the game came in the midfield, with the Sch’s and the Fer’s. The red pairing of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger and the blue pairing of Fernando and Fernandinho. The away side sat compact and hardly moved forward, with the two Brazilians performing their roles very well. The United midfield bossed the ball, moving it well side to side, but couldn’t get it forward to the attack enough.
Then you had City’s two centre halves up against Rooney. Often England’s record-breaking skipper would come too short, filling the midfield role, which made it very easy to defend against for Kompany and Otamendi, as the striker couldn’t get in and around the box enough times. Perhaps the pace of Martial through the middle would have exploited them better. City mainly played on the counter, but the home side covered this well and were rarely threatened by the pace on the break.
Overall, a point apiece was fair, as City moved back to the top, level on points with Arsenal whilst United moved down to fourth, behind West Ham on goal difference.