The 172nd Manchester Derby finished goalless in what must go down as one of the worst matches the Premier League will ever have to endure. Forget sleeping tablets. Ten minutes of this would have you out like a light.
In a game where both sides had the chance to move into the top four, the game instead became an exercise in which team wanted to be the most defensive in search of a point. Unsurprisingly, this made for dire entertainment.
The first half was, quite frankly, appalling. Bar a handful of moments, viewers could have been left wondering if this was Alfreton vs Chorley rather than a Manchester derby.
Passes played straight out of play or straight to the opposition, poor control, bad decision making- it was a shambles. City were so sluggish in possession it was extraordinary, while United were so content to keep losing the ball in the middle third that it became worryingly predictable.
Half- or maybe quarter- chances were the state of play. The initial opening was actually for United, with Victor Lindelof flicking a corner just out of reach of a sliding Scott McTominay at the far post. Lindelof and Harry Maguire both later had headed attempts from corners sail just over the bar, with City guilty of static defending each time.
Despite one of their worst first half showings under Pep Guardiola, City did create the better chances. A wonderful one-two between Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne saw the England man’s shot blocked by Maguire from 10 yards out, in what was the first time City had even shown a glimpse of their attacking abilities.
Riyad Mahrez then briefly stamped his authority on the game, first picking out Gabriel Jesus with an excellent pass that the City striker was unable to make proper contact with, before whipping in a powerful freekick that Lindelof defended well, holding off John Stones enough that the ball simply looped to David de Gea.
On 35 minutes, the first, and only, real chance of the whole match landed City’s way.
Jesus broke from midfield with Fred unable to stop or foul the Brazilian, with the City striker then looking up and finding de Bruyne inside. His pinpoint first time pass round the corner through Luke Shaw’s legs found Mahrez in on goal, but the winger hesitated and hesitated and, in the end, simply hit the ball straight at de Gea, with de Bruyne putting the rebound well over.
As the whistle sounded, everyone watching would have hoped for a drastic improvement in quality in the second half.
Half time: Manchester United 0-0 Manchester City
Any hopes for improvement were summed up inside 10 seconds. The ball was out of play for a City throw-in before the score had time to reappear on screen.
However, the only major talking point did occur shortly after.
A Bruno Fernandes cross found Marcus Rashford at the back post, just inside the box. As he cut inside, Kyle Walker made the slightest of contact with the United man’s toe. The impact was roughly equivalent to that of a drop of rain.
However, as it is with modern football, Rashford went down as if he had a broken leg, shouting and rolling around on the turf like a prime Neymar- maybe he had taken notes from the Parisians’ visit in the last few weeks.
Referee Chris Kavanagh, after initially ignoring the theatrics, then blew for the penalty. For good measure, Rashford continued to lie on the ground for another minute, wincing and puffing out his cheeks in an excellent performance. Take note, Academy Awards. Luckily, he managed to get to his feet shortly before the air ambulance and emergency doctors came to his aid.
Luckily for football, the people at Stockley Park had now been given plenty of time to draw their lines. Rashford was, clearly, in an offside position when the pass was made. Penalty overturned.
If anyone expected this to be a turning point, those hopes quickly fizzled out. Rashford and Mason Greenwood both shot well wide for United before the hour mark, before Fernandinho copied them in aiming apparently at the stand rather than the goal.
A de Bruyne freekick into the wall in the 70th minute was genuinely City’s best attempt of the half until added time, when Rodri basically passed a ball to de Gea from just inside the box. Shortly beforehand, Fernandes had done a similar attempt from further out which Ederson simply picked up.
After the first 45, it did not seem like the second half could be any worse. Somehow, it managed to be. It was woeful. If you want to see highlights, do not bother. There were almost none.
Full time: Manchester United 0-0 Manchester City
Man of the Match: John Stones
Once again, he did not put a foot wrong in a solid defensive display. The fact that he looked more like finding a through ball into a dangerous position that almost every other player on the pitch speaks volumes. Credit also to Joao Cancelo and Kevin de Bruyne for at least showing some attacking intent.