Cautious City pass up golden chance to land blow on United

Manchester City 0 Manchester United 0

The electronic billboards last night that advertised David Haye's heavyweight title defence against Audley Harrison in Manchester on Saturday promised knockout punches and an engrossing dose of personal animosity which, in the end, was a good deal more than the city's two great football clubs mustered.

They danced around each other, they feinted and they swayed but neither ever threatened to land a blow. There was one offside and no memorable chance for either team. It would have been a relief if either team had jutted out a chin in the name of ambition and tried to take the game by the lapels. But in the end they hid behind two dominant defences and the lesser evil of not losing the game.

Whose fault? Roberto Mancini has lavished millions on strikers but he can only find room for one, Carlos Tevez, when it comes to games like this. If Manchester City have ambitions of becoming part of the English football elite, if they want the grudging admiration that all the big clubs earn, then they need to be confident enough to try to win games at home whoever the opposition.

With Mancini it seems enough not to lose matches such as these. It is a pragmatic approach and you might be able to justify it if the gap between his side and their famous neighbours was so vast but last night it felt like United were there for the taking. They were without Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and the long-term injured Antonio Valencia. There is a touch of vulnerability about them. City never grasped their opportunity.

In the fourth minute of time added on at the end of the second half, Mancini brought off Tevez and replaced him with Emmanuel Adebayor. Even with 30 seconds on the clock the Italian coach was not prepared to play two strikers. Adebayor took so long getting ready that it was obvious he was far from delighted about a meaningless cameo. On this occasion it was hard not to feel sympathetic.

As for Sir Alex Ferguson, he seemed to recognise early on that his opponents did not have the stomach to take any risks. The United manager was just as conservative in his own formation – it was 4-5-1 masquerading as 4-3-3 – but then to be fair to him, his side were playing away from home. It was City's job to take the initiative but Mancini's conservative nature suited Ferguson whose team were well-prepared for a midfield slog.

Nemanja Vidic and, to a lesser extent, Rio Ferdinand were excellent in defence and the midfield three of Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher were solid. The same could be said of Vincent Kompany and Kolo Touré for City and the likes of Gareth Barry and Yaya Touré were decent, too, but all that midfield competence has to have some flourish to go with it.

What, City's fans are entitled to ask, is the point of spending all that Arab oil money if it is not to deliver the kind of memorable nights when they beat United? Mancini said that he did not care if he was criticised for playing so defensively although, while Chelsea and Arsenal both won, it was hard to see quite the point of his masterplan. There is still the return fixture in February but if City were defensive last night then what will they be like at Old Trafford?

The sight of Fabio Capello talking animatedly to the world's No 1 golfer Lee Westwood, who was sat next to him, made you wonder what the England manager found so exciting about yesterday's game. The most notable moment came at the end of the first half when Rafael da Silva and Tevez went nose-to-nose and had to be broken up twice by referee Chris Foy. There had been a few niggling tackles between them and presumably a whole Brazil-Argentina thing going on, too.

Also chipping in with some trademark aggression of his own was Scholes, who committed three blatant fouls on James Milner before he was booked by Foy on the insistence of the home crowd. Scholes is one part slow, one part nasty and even in his dotage his dodgy tackling never fails to take the breath away.

To be fair to Scholes, he was not the only one. Gareth Barry got away with an unpleasant studs-up challenge that connected painfully with Luis Nani's right ankle. Barry got the ball as well but in the circumstances that looked fairly incidental. And if it can be said that Scholes operates on the edge then Nigel de Jong is right there alongside him.

The best effort of the first half was a Tevez free-kick after the second of Scholes' fouls on Milner that the United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar flicked round the post. Vidic was excellent in the centre of their defence, especially defending set-pieces. Dimitar Berbatov had a couple of eye-catching touches but the closest he got to a goal was a half-hearted volley on 57 minutes.

When Javier Hernandez stepped up to the touchline with 12 minutes left it looked like Ferguson might just be upping the ante. But it was Berbatov whom the Mexican replaced and United stuck to the same very conservative shape. For his part, Mancini changed one left-back, Jérôme Boateng, for another, Aleksandar Kolarov. Not exactly a game-changing move.

At least Mancini could say that he did not lose to United, which is more than many of his predecessors at the club could claim. But City have changed. The blue moon is rising, as they are fond of saying in these parts, and with it comes a very different set of expectations to those that would settle for a goalless draw with the old enemy.

Manchester City (4-3-3): Hart; Boateng (Kolarov, 80), K Touré, Kompany, Zabaleta; Y Touré, De Jong, Barry; Milner (A Johnson, 72), Tevez (Adebayor, 89), Silva. Substitutes not used Given (gk), Richards, Lescott, Vieira.

Manchester United (4-5-1): Van der Sar; R da Silva (Brown, 49), Ferdinand,Vidic, Evra (O'Shea, 68); Nani, Fletcher, Carrick, Scholes, Park; Berbatov (Hernandez, 78). Substitutes not used Amos (gk), Smalling, Obertan, Gibson.

Referee C Foy (Merseyside).

Man of the match Vidic.

Attendance 47,210.

Match rating 4/10.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism