Manchester United and Man City combine for worst derby of modern times

Both came into this talking about potential title challenges, but ended up looking like mid-table sides, and producing something of even lower quality

Miguel Delaney
Saturday 12 December 2020 19:52
The best of Sergio Agüero vs Manchester United

The worst Manchester derby of modern times? Maybe one of the worst Premier League’s matches of modern times. It really was that bad. And while such descriptions are open to debate, what isn’t open to debate is that these two sides currently look very far off the best in England. They’d both come into this talking about potential title challenges, but ended up looking like mid-table sides, and producing something of lower quality.

If you were to try and sum it and recall any memorable moments, there was really only a penalty call and one sublime Kevin De Bruyne pass. The Belgian’s first-half ball for Riyad Mahrez was the only incident that elevated the game, and reminded us of why we actually watch this.

Within that, though, there was a wider point about the sides - especially Manchester City. A whole lot of nothing still had something to say.

Manchester United’s approach was the more cautious, but there was the context of Tuesday’s Champions League elimination against RB Leipzig in already gruelling season, so a 0-0 draw in this fixture wasn’t too bad for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to follow a humiliation like that - especially against the idea of this City side.

But that idea is what’s interesting.

On the face of, a 0-0 against this City is fine. Stand back a bit, though, and you realise there might not have been the same need to stand off. This team certainly don’t live up to the idea of what a Pep Guardiola side are supposed to be. They’re so lethargic and flat.

Some around the club do put this current performance level down to physical preparation. They maintain that Guardiola’s staff are highly conscious of the “intense physical load” of this season and are trying to manage the squad so they don’t suffer breakdowns and have the right energy at the right times.

That might be true. That might be just an excuse. It’s something that won’t be revealed for a while.

For the moment, though, one thing is undeniably true. City aren’t a side to fear any more. Whatever about the “idea” of how they play, it must be the least intimidating team he’s ever had.

That goes beyond the football, which is currently so pedestrian and lacking in their 2017-19 verve. It is about the players.

Other than De Bruyne, there isn’t too much there right now. There aren’t really players to fear.

Some of this is circumstantial. We know well Raheem Sterling’s true quality, but he hasn’t been on his top form for a while. His failure to score in 22 games against United, however, is part of a longer-term trend.

Beyond those two totems, though, it feels like Guardiola is struggling with the transition between one title-winning team and the attempt to create another. There’s just a wider drop-off.

It was one of those games where it was impossible not to think that they have failed to adequately replace David Silva and Leroy Sane. There were then the constant images of Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden on the bench.

Some of that may change with time, of course.

Ferran Torres did add energy and make at least some things happen when he came on, and there looks real potential there.

Right now, though, there is a strong argument that United have a better range of attackers overall than City.

This possibly played into Guardiola’s thinking, too, as he may have been conscious of not getting caught out on the break against Solskjaer for the fourth of the last five games. In that, it reminded of City’s 0-0 at Anfield in October 2018, after a series of games when Liverpool had steamrollered them.

Guardiola will also point to another clean sheet, and growing evidence he has “solved” the defence. It’s just they weren’t tested.

United never really pushed them, or pushed forward. They didn’t have enough conviction in themselves. There was no intent.

It was all a big stand-off, that ended with players hugging. It was impossible not to dwell on that image given what this fixture is supposed to be about.

It didn’t look like a derby. Neither of these sides looked like challengers. It barely looked like a football match.

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