One of the most attritional Manchester derbies in recent times ended in stalemate at Eastlands, with both sides deploying five across midfield and a cautious approach for much of the game. This, in truth, was nothing like the drama the two clubs served up in four astonishing meetings last season as the 157th Manchester derby ended scoreless.
Given Manchester United’s recent trouble with injuries and illness, Sir Alex Ferguson would probably have taken a point from the short trip across town. In the end though, United failed to translate dominance of possession in midfield into clear chances or goals as the game petered out into congested trench warfare.
United though will end the match the more frustrated of the two sides, with the game there to be won but for City’s willingness to defend in numbers in front of its own supporters.
“City are very difficult to beat on their own ground and that’s obvious with the way they set their stall out in the second half,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.
“I was pleased with the control we had, we were very confident and had good possession of the ball but we needed to create chances. I think we had two, in that sense we didn’t do enough.
“I think there was too much tension for it to be kind of match people thought it would be. It’s a decent result but we don’t count draws away from home as the target before the game. Our target is to win the game and I think we had enough possession to do that.”
Ryan Giggs missed his first Derby in nearly 20 years, sidelined with a hamstring injury and the ‘flu in recent weeks. In his stead Ferguson opted for Nani and weekend goalscorer Park Ji-Sung in support of Dimitar Berbatov, with Javier Hernández perhaps unlucky to miss out given the Mexican’s recent good form.
If United’s line-up looked cautious then Ferguson opted to match City’s five in midfield, with Park also looking to tuck inside. City, meanwhile, offered up a powerful if defensive-minded trio of Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure.
With the younger Toure brother and Darren Fletcher often the closest of the midfield sextet to their respective strikers, the match was always likely to be characterised by more attrition than flair. Indeed, the cagey opening period lasted most of the tie.
Yet the the hosts almost created the first chance of the night, with Carlos Tevez evading Rio Ferdinand and failing to shoot when the opportunity presented itself. Long range efforts from Michael Carrick and Nani in the opening quarter barely tested Joe Hart in the City net.
No surprise then that it was more than 35 minutes into the match before either ‘keeper was forced into a save at full stretch, with Edwin van der Sar palming away Tevez’ free-kick. In truth either ‘keeper could have been forgiven for taking the night off on this evidence.
The second period began much as the first finished. United pushed the frankly abysmal Park into an even more central role in an increasingly congested midfield as the two side’s largely cancelled each other out. The South Korean, who scored twice against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday, lost possession 12 times in an often careless display.
Yet the visitors almost drew first blood, with substitute Wes Brown and Carrick working an opportunity for Berbatov to fire straight at Hart from eight yards. It was almost as good as it got at Eastlands.
United, hampered by injuries to both fullbacks during the match, resisted the temptation to use Hernández until 13 minutes from time as both sides sought safety in numbers. Indeed, the Mexican’s introduction was at the expense of Berbatov, who played well, but often far too deep to inflict real damage on the hosts.
United, though, continued to dictate the pace of the game and edge possession as Ferguson’s side had throughout. Carrick and Fletcher, aided by Scholes, out thought and often fought their counterparts in the City engine room. On this evidence, Geordie Carrick may well be finding his best form once again.
It wasn’t enough though, with United unable to find the opportunity in the closing minutes that characterised last season’s dramatic wins over the Blues.
“I think today we saw two teams that defended as units and a draw was the right result,” said United captain Vidic.
“It’s a hard place for us to come, we came here to win the game but City was a strong team today. We played some good football but we didn’t create too many chances.”
Man-of-the-match Vidic neatly summarised the match, which will be forgotten quickly. However, the draw extends to 25 United’s lossless steak spread across two campaigns.
The Reds will have to find a greater cutting edge to win the Premier League title, especially away from home, but there were at least more positives than often has been the case on the road this season.
City – 451 – Hart; Boateng (Kolarov 80), Kolo Toure, Kompany, Zabaleta; Milner (A Johnson 73), Barry, De Jong, Yaya Toure, Silva; Tevez (Adebayor 90+4).
United – 451 – Van der Sar; Rafael (Brown 49), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra (O’Shea 68); Nani, Scholes, Fletcher, Carrick, Park; Berbatov (Hernandez 77).
Attendance – 47,679
Man of the Match – Vidic
Possession: City 48% – 52% United
Attempts: 6 – 7
On target: 4 – 4
Corners: 8 – 5
Fouls: 10 – 12