By Derrick Kiplagat
It was billed as the most expensive Premier League game of all time, with big-money signings on both sides. However, with just a sprinkling of quality on offer at Old Trafford, Manchester United and Manchester City played out a forgettable derby stalemate, meaning that City return to the top of the table above Arsenal.
It was an occasion when players like Nicolas Otamendi and Marcos Rojo shone, rather than Kevin De Bruyne and Anthony Martial, who were both tipped as potential derby match winners for their respective sides. At times United huffed and puffed but never managed to steal a goal, while City clearly missed the excellent attacking partnership of Sergio Aguero and David Silva.
The game had a frenetic tempo at the start, with United looking to impose themselves on proceedings early on.
Mata and Herrera both started the game in advanced positions, with the hosts seeking to unlock City’s defense with quick, incisive passing that had a lot more purpose than the midweek draw with CSKA Moscow in the Champions League.
However, City looked threatening every time they poured forward, notably when De Bruyne wonderfully flicked the ball around the corner for Sterling to charge at the exposed United defense on the break.
He slotted the ball through to the onrushing Toure but Marcos Rojo did really well on the cover to shepherd the powerful Ivorian away from the goal and block off the path to goal.
It was extremely tight in the first half, with nothing to separate the sides after the end of the first half. Unfortunately for City, De Bruyne’s delivery from corners was not of its usual standard and when he found himself with the ball at his feet out on the right, he was well marked by Rojo, who was United’s outstanding player in the first period.
United started the second half convincingly and came agonizingly close to a much needed breakthrough when Smalling headed a Mata corner back across goal, just eluding Schneiderlin who tried to follow it in.
There were no appeals from the United players, Schneiderlin occupying himself with punching the ground in disgust.
Mata almost found himself with a golden opportunity to score just at the hour mark after a fantastic intercepted tackle from Rojo turned into a through ball for the Spaniard, only for Hart to fly out of his net brilliantly and prevent the United play maker from getting the goal.
Hart had very little to do up until that point so it was credit to his concentration levels that he took up an excellent starting position and showed great conviction in shutting out Mata.
The game appeared to be heading for a congenial draw with neither side showing tremendous impetus to chase the opener until Jesse Lingard – who replaced Mata on the hour – made a darting run beyond the defense, found by Martial, and rattled the crossbar with an improvised delinked effort that had Hart beaten. It was the closest either side had come but was just shy of winning the game for United.
Then, with some semblance of momentum, City required a fingertips save from Hart to stop Smalling after the defender met Fellaini’s header in the danger area.