With Man United, Man Metropolis missed the possibility to inflict extra distress and bolster their title hopes
MANCHESTER, England – Manchester City and its fans have always been irritated by being overshadowed by Manchester United and the events at Old Trafford, where the two teams drew 0-0 on Saturday. Good, bad, or indifferent, United’s historic power and worldwide popularity have tended to make headlines, even as City has broken records and won trophies under Pep Guardiola.
City’s successes in recent years have been viewed more by comparing them to great United teams under Sir Alex Ferguson, viewed as isolated and seen as outstanding achievements.
But sometimes the focus on the red side of Manchester can help divert attention from negative aspects at Etihad Stadium and Guardiola and his players have certainly benefited from that. United has carried the atmosphere of a team on the brink of a crisis season.
Ole Gunnar Solakjaer’s side have suffered a humiliating 6-1 loss at home to Tottenham, left the Champions League in the group stage and scored only one Premier League win at home against newly promoted West Brom. They also had to grapple with their most famous player’s agent, Paul Pogba, who went public this week claiming the midfielder wants to restart his career elsewhere.
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Before kick-off – and after a gloomy 90 minutes that led to a goalless stalemate – United were ahead of City in the Premier League table. With all the talk of crisis and uncertainty about Solskjaer’s future as a manager, they look down on their rivals in the city and have only lost one of the last five games against their neighbors in all competitions.
“In my time against Manchester City it was the best performance we’ve ever had,” Solskjaer told Sky Sports, adding: “They probably had the bigger moments in the open game. Everyone should be happy with a draw.”
By their own incredibly high standards, City and Guardiola have struggled this season but the shortcomings are regularly exposed and their performance against United has been anemic. They are five points behind leaders Tottenham and Liverpool in eighth place in the table and this time do not really seem a real threat to Jürgen Klopp’s champions.
One of the greatest strengths of City under Guardiola was their unparalleled ability to convincingly beat teams and seem to score at will. This is borne out by the fact that United’s stalemate marked the first 0-0 in the league in 79 games.
But the goals have dried up; While City scored 34 goals after eleven games last season, this time around they’ve hit exactly half that number – 17 – and rarely looked like they were improving their record against United.
The absence of Sergio Aguero with gastroenteritis didn’t help, but the striker only managed 110 minutes in the league all season, giving City ample time to score without him. It’s a short and long-term problem with the 32-year-old out of contract at the end of the season. Whether he stays or goes, another proven goalscorer is needed to share the burden.
Pep Guardiola’s Man City only managed two shots on goal at Old Trafford. Getty
But aside from the lack of a reliable striker – Gabriel Jesus had little influence on United – City have also lost the ability to overwhelm teams with attacks in waves.
In the past, aspiring full-backs and midfielders like Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Yaya Toure and Bernardo Silva have dismantled opponents, but Toure and David Silva have left without being adequately replaced, while De Bruyne has only scored two league goals this season and Bernardo has none.
Phil Foden is perhaps City’s liveliest midfielder in the final third but has only started four league games in 2020/21 and was left on the bench by Guardiola as that game led to its inevitable close.
While one point at Old Trafford is a respectable result for any team with ambitions for the title, it was really two points for City as Solskjaer’s team have repeatedly shown their vulnerability this season, especially at home.
Crystal Palace, Tottenham and Arsenal have all won against Manchester’s red half while Chelsea drew 0-0. United struggled to threaten one of them, but City played like they were happy to get away with a point.
“We created three or four clear chances, you can’t expect many against a team like United and a good point in the end,” Guardiola told BBC Sport after the game. “It will be a good point in the future.”
Perhaps United bridged the gap with their neighbors – it was such a yawning gap that they had to do something – but City is still much stronger. However, unless they can step up their goal performance and start winning close games, Guardiola’s men risk ending up under United for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson’s resignation in 2013.
Unlike then, as both teams look like now, they may be fighting for fifth and sixth place, more like first and second place.