Manchester United and Manchester City for the past decade has perhaps been one of the most enjoyable fixtures in the Premier League calendar, ever since the “Noisy Neighbours” emerged from the Red Devils’ shadow following their takeover in 2008.
Manchester City have been the dominant force in the Northwest of England ever since winning their first Premier League title in 2012 piping United to the title on the final day of the season with the infamous “Aguerooooooooo” goal against Queens Park Rangers sealing the title for the Citizens’.
City has gone from strength to strength under Sheikh Mansour’s ownership of the club transforming Manchester City into one of Europe’s top clubs attracting a global fan base. The brilliant Pep Guardiola has been manager of City since the 2016/17 season and has transformed the club with his famous “tiki-taka” style of football which has seen City win two Premier League titles since he’s been at the club.
Meanwhile, at Old Trafford the clouds have been gathering ever since the retirement of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson after 27 years at the club. The club owned by the colourful Glazers and ran by their investment banker friend Ed Woodward has seen a traumatic seven years for the Red Devils. Woodward has been responsible for three managerial casualties and he is currently on his fourth appointment with club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer manager currently after impressing on an interim basis upon Mourinho’s sacking. Solskjaer is approaching his second anniversary in charge of the Red Devils next week and a result against City would be the perfect remedy after a turbulent start to the season.
On a mild December evening at Old Trafford a victory for either City or United could move them up the table into the Top 4 with a game in hand heading into the busy Christmas period. The legendary Sir Matt Busby’s famous quote “Football is nothing without the fans” which was a banner stretched across the empty Stretford End and it perfectly summarised the atmosphere of the match. Solskjaer was in need of a big result after Manchester United’s embarrassing exit from the Champions League on Wednesday night and a win over City would make it five consecutive wins in the Premier League. Meanwhile, Guardiola’s City are starting to find form and looking extremely good defensively with five consecutive clean sheets helped by the impressive summer arrival of Ruben Dias and return of form to John Stones. Solskjaer started with his favoured 4-3-1-2 system with the starting XI: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Fred, Pogba, Fernandes, Greenwood, Rashford.
The return of Fred to midfield will be extremely important to United given the talented Brazilian became a key player since the turn of the year forming a formidable partnership with Scott McTominay in the engine room. McTominay and Fred both provide structure and protection to a back four who have looked vulnerable all season conceding17 goals in the league this season and only keeping two clean sheets.
The game was played at such a slow pace people could have misplaced it for a testimonial or training session with both two teams being very cautious throughout the game. The over cautious approach from both managers set the tone for a damp squid with either side not doing enough to justifying collecting three points. It was a game of few chances but City had the better of the first half with the impressive De Bruyne finding Riyad Mahrez whose shot was excellently saved by De Gea the best chance of the half. United looked very good defensively in the first half with impressive displays from Luke Shaw with his first start in the Premier League in a month and McTominay who was his usual busy self in midfield. Solskjaer’s men looked very dangerous from set pieces in the first half with City failing to deal with the physicality of Maguire and Lindelof with both central defenders winning free headers that untroubled Ederson in the City goal.
United came out of the traps quicker in the second half and nearly had another penalty when Marcus Rashford was caught by the erratic Kyle Walker inside the penalty box. However, Chris Kavanagh the referee after VAR reviewed the incident judged that Rashford was off side in the build-up to the incident. Marcus Rashford then flashed a first time effort to the left of Ederson’s post after an impressive first time pass into him by Pogba. Manchester City grew into the game as the second half progressed with United looking leggy after their difficult away trip to Germany on Tuesday night but City failed to create any goal scoring chances. Upon reflection, United were the better side in the first half and City shaded it in the second half so a stalemate once a fair result. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side sit seventh in the Premier League table after 11 games with a game in hand heading into the busy festive period and a point at home against Guardiola can be seen as a positive result after United’s disappointing week. There was a few positives to take from a laborious display such as: David De Dea’s third clean sheet of the season, Luke Shaw was excellent on his return, McTominay and Fred remain key to the way Solskjaer wants to play and gaining some momentum in the league with four wins and a draw in the last five fixtures.
The Manchester United derby at an eerily empty Old Trafford and the atmosphere of the game has just reemphasised how important football fans are and the need for them to be back in ground around the world as soon as it safe to do so. If Manchester gets the go ahead from the government this week and Covid-19 cases continue to stabilise in the area, it could see the city move to Tier 2 which would allow 2,000 supporters to attend next Sunday’s clash with old rivals Premier League new boys Leeds United at Old Trafford.
The supporters returning into the grounds at the busiest part of the season would be a huge boost to the Premier League and Manchester United in particular to create an amazing atmosphere inside the “Theatre of Dreams” once again. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces a difficult away trip to Bramall Lane to face rock bottom Sheffield United on Thursday which will be his second year anniversary in charge of the club. Solskjaer and the Red Devils will be hoping to return from South Yorkshire with three points and a good performance to give the “The Baby Faced Assassin” some much needed respite ahead of the Christmas period.