Manchester United responded well to their chastening Champions League exit but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men could not find a way past Manchester City in a tame, goalless derby draw.
The empty stands no doubt played a part in the 183rd Manchester derby lacking bite and intensity, nine months on from a packed crowd roaring their side to victory in what proved to be the last Old Trafford match with supporters.
There was not even a yellow card until the 79th minute on Saturday evening as the rivals played out a 0-0 draw in which both sides had chances but lacked the required cutting edge to eke out victory.
United started far more focused than Tuesday’s costly Champions League loss at RB Leipzig and were a threat from set pieces, but City had the best chance of the first half when Riyad Mahrez was denied before Kevin De Bruyne fired over.
Solskjaer’s side have tended to grow into games and were awarded a penalty moments after half-time, but the video assistant referee rightly ruled that Marcus Rashford was offside before Kyle Walker kicked him in the box.
That chance woke City’s backline up and the United defence produced the kind of solid display that has been sorely lacking recently as the derby ended without a goal.
Solskjaer urged his side to be at it from the start on Saturday after their costly early capitulation in Germany and the players heeded that advice, looking far more controlled as De Bruyne attempted to prise open the defence.
United went close to opening the scoring in the 11th minute when Luke Shaw’s corner was glanced on by Victor Lindelof and just beyond Scott McTominay racing in at the far post.
Raheem Sterling jinked into space and saw a shot blocked by Harry Maguire at the other end, while the killer instinct of the absent Sergio Aguero was sorely missed when Gabriel Jesus blazed over from a lovely clipped Mahrez pass.
The sides continued to share chances during an even first half lacking the typical derby vibe.
Paul Pogba, starting for the first time since his agent’s controversial comments, saw a shot blocked and United skipper Maguire powered over a header from the resulting corner.
The visitors’ best chance of the night came in a lightning-quick 35th-minute break.
Jesus burst forwards, De Bruyne played a stunning first-time touch out to Mahrez, whose shot was saved well by David De Gea before De Bruyne fired over the rebound.
Lindelof headed over from a corner towards the end of a goalless first half which was followed by United being awarded a penalty within two minutes of the restart.
With England boss Gareth Southgate watching in the stands, right-back Walker kicked international team-mate Rashford when attempting to clear the ball and referee Chris Kavanagh pointed to the spot.
It was a big chance rightly ripped away by the VAR as the United forward had strayed offside in the build-up.
Unbalanced Mason Greenwood missed the target and Rashford fired wide as the home side continued a bright start to the second period, with City’s only chance a wayward Fernandinho attempt.
De Bruyne was beginning to look frustrated as United stayed solid, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka doing well to stop Sterling before Maguire superbly got in the way of a De Bruyne attempt.
City pressure was slowly creeping up and Maguire became the first player of the evening booked when clumsily bringing down Jesus in the 79th minute.
Fernandinho followed him into referee Kavanagh’s notebook, with Bruno Fernandes seeing a late snapshot easily saved before firing across the face of goal.
De Gea, whose place had been under scrutiny, comfortably held a bobbling Rodri attempt in the dying embers of a derby that never caught light.
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