There was a perfunctory handshake at the end, Jose Mourinho touching palms with Pep Guardiola as he headed for the tunnel. Job done. Not, perhaps, the job Manchester United required, but the one Mourinho dictated. Guardiola and Mourinho will never put the ‘mate’ into stalemate. Manchester City and United provided the ‘stale’ instead.
Mourinho played for a point, got one and departed with United’s extraordinary undefeated run in the Premier League extended to 24 games. Yet another interpretation of that is that 22 points have been dropped in that time: 13 wins, 11 draws. The idiosyncratic Invincibles concentrated on being hard to beat, and they were. The eventual league table will provide proof if this was a point gained or two dropped.
A derby lacking a focal point was belatedly given one by its most identifiable player. Marouane Fellaini was already defining it in one respect: this was an ugly, ungainly encounter, notable for United’s awkward efficiency. Then he went from microcosm to moron, collecting the game’s first booking for chopping down Sergio Aguero, fouling him again and then headbutting him – not with any great violence, but with sufficient obviousness that a red card was rendered inevitable.
Fellaini had been the unglamorous bruiser. He can seem an odd emblem of Mourinho’s United but while the Portuguese has the profile and charisma of a superstar striker, he can be the managerial equivalent of a defensive midfielder. He is an unapologetic spoiler. He has secured 0-0 draws at both Anfield and the Etihad Stadium this season.
His team had 31 per cent of the ball, one shot on target – and even that was a chance fashioned by Claudio Bravo’s inability to hold on to a cross – and, while Aguero hit a post and Gabriel Jesus had an added-time goal disallowed, comparatively few defensive alarms. They have still only conceded five league goals in 2017 and, without three injured centre-backs, nonetheless saw Eric Bailly and Daley Blind dovetail well, shielded well by a trio in the heart of the midfield.
When Fellaini’s dismissal meant Marcus Rashford had to be sacrificed, Tim Fosu-Mensah came on and United played 4-5-0. Guardiola played a striker-less system of sorts at Barcelona with a false nine. Mourinho ended with a very different version of one. This was defensive. Anthony Martial had stuck so close to Matteo Darmian that United almost fielded two left-backs. Rashford cut an isolated figure before his withdrawal.
United approached it in the manner of a European away game; draw 0-0 and take them back to Old Trafford. Except that, with trips to Arsenal and Tottenham to come, United’s Premier League destiny will be determined on their travels. They have procured points at the expense of lesser lights but are yet to record a landmark away win; without one, they need to win the Europa League for their season to be branded a success.
Read the full article on eurosport.co.uk: Jose Mourinho puts the ‘stale’ in stalemate – but draw keeps United on track