Ever get the feeling you shouldn’t have bothered watching a game of football? Thousands of supporters might feel that way but so too might the managers and players after this evening’s borefest of a Manchester derby.
One might have expected a pragmatic approach from the under-fire Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but they would not have from Pep Guardiola; both coaches seemed content to play a game of chess until the other made a gamble. When the time came, the game had already succumbed to such a dreadful procession that nobody could inspire anything to deviate from the inevitable.
Ultimately, neither manager got the result they wanted, although you could definitely argue both got what they deserved.
There were a couple of openings for either side in the first half; McTominay could have reacted quicker from a Lindelof flick, and Maguire had a header from a corner that went over. For the visitors, Sterling caused a moment of panic before he was snuffed out, and De Bruyne’s cleverness set up a chance that came back to him, but he shot over.
The main drama of the game came from a penalty that was awarded for a foul on Rashford, and then called back when it was revealed the forward was offside when he received the ball. Rashford then snatched at a chance when Pogba, who had started the game following the controversy of the past week, did well to find him.
And that, really, was that – with more than 30 minutes to play. A couple of late efforts from distance from Bruno Fernandes was the United response to City’s territorial advantage, and although Guardiola’s team were successful in luring defenders out of position, United always had a disciplined player to step in.
A goalless game, then, and despite the feeling that both managers might have settled for this, what we witnessed was the sort of below-par outing that sums up why neither of these teams are likely to win the league this season.
Perhaps most relevantly of all, especially because of this occasion, a soulless derby reminded us of the importance of fans. Then again, as was noted at the top – perhaps it was best they stayed away from this one.
You could see this one of two ways – Ole picked the best team to win the game, or, he made a number of gambles, some smaller and some bigger than others. The Pogba hot potato. Is it the time to pull the plug on De Gea? Why oh why is Lindelof still in the team? And of course the perception of these decisions is shaped by the performance and, more importantly, the result.
Then again, it’s difficult to draw any conclusions when what you watched was so poor – do a down-on-their-luck United have a greater right to feel as though they needed to get through this game? Can Solskjaer even count that as a positive in these circumstances? I’m not so sure he can.
Because you look at the result in isolation and think it’s not so bad.
But then you consider Luke Shaw’s comments after the game : “We said we needed to start brightly and if we did not we could be 3-0 or 4-0 down by 30 minutes.” And then you begin to wonder if the problems are even bigger than many of us fear.
De Gea 6