Manchester United and Manchester City shared the spoils after a forgettable 170th Manchester derby that yielded only two shots on target finished 0-0 at Old Trafford on Sunday.
The point was enough to return City to the Premier League summit on goal difference above Arsenal, with United two points back in fourth place, but it was not a game that will have given Arsene Wenger’s side undue concerns about the strength of their competition in the title race.
In mitigation, Manuel Pellegrini’s City could point to the absence of injured duo Sergio Aguero and David Silva, which partly explained why their attack ran dry after a flood of 11 goals in two league games.
“It is a good point,” Pellegrini told Sky Sports. “If you can’t win, then don’t lose it. People have said that we can’t defend and in the second half we did very well.
“I am satisfied with a point, but I don’t like to play this way.”
United manager Louis van Gaal could not point to injuries to explain his side’s attacking shortcomings, although they came closest to scoring when Anthony Martial, the hosts’ stand-out forward, teed up substitute Jesse Lingard to volley against the bar late on.
“We had 90 minutes control of the game against a side like Manchester City,” said Van Gaal.
“I cannot complain. But you want to win and we did not.”
City had made lightning-fast starts on their two previous visits to Old Trafford — a 3-0 win in their 2013-14 title-winning season and a 4-2 defeat last April — but it was United who imposed themselves here.
Perhaps mindful of the joy that Sevilla had found on the flanks during their 2-1 Champions League defeat at City on Wednesday, United looked to move the ball wide quickly, with Antonio Valencia — preferred to Matteo Darmian at right-back — squandering two early crossing chances.
Wayne Rooney misfires for the Red Devils
Martial again lined up wide on the left for the hosts and he offered a threat each time he took possession, drawing fouls from Fernandinho and City skipper Vincent Kompany that each yielded bookings.
At the other end, Raheem Sterling had a shot blocked by Phil Jones, while as the first half drew to a close Yaya Toure saw a free-kick deflected off-target and then headed wide from the ensuing corner.
Wayne Rooney, playing the day after his 30th birthday, did not get a sniff up front for United and was required to leave the pitch for treatment after a clash of heads with Kompany, who returned to City’s starting XI following six weeks out with a calf injury.
United reached half-time having failed to register a single attempt at goal, but they quickly rectified that in the second period.
Ander Herrera saw a shot deflected behind and then had a strong penalty appeal turned down after getting his foot caught between Sterling’s legs, while Chris Smalling’s looping header was almost turned in by Morgan Schneiderlin.
On the penalty claim, Van Gaal said: “We should have had a penalty on Ander Herrera. It is easy to see for me, but I have a replay. The referee has one second.”
Shortly after, Marcos Rojo’s halfway-line interception unintentionally turned into a through-ball for Juan Mata, but Joe Hart sprinted from his line to clear.
Seeking an out-ball, Pellegrini sent Jesus Navas on for Sterling — his hat-trick against Bournemouth last weekend a distant memory — while for United, Lingard and Marouane Fellaini replaced Mata and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
When one of the goalkeepers was finally tested, David de Gea had no trouble gathering a tame curler from Navas, but Lingard went closer minutes later when he hared onto Martial’s delicately flighted pass and used the outside of his right foot to flick a volley against the bar.
United belatedly worked Hart in the 88th minute, but the England goalkeeper showed sharp reflexes to claw away Smalling’s shot from Fellaini’s knockdown.