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Manchester United

Derby draw a slow step in the right direction but Man Utd need to find their firepower and fast

21:13 GMT 12/12/2020
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Pep Guardiola Manchester United Manchester City
A stalemate against City was enough for United to keep in touch with the top of the Premier League table but there is a worrying lack of goal threat

A point against Manchester City in a drab derby means Manchester United stay in touch with the top end of the Premier League table but they are going to have to find a higher level if they are to truly compete for the big prizes.

United, despite their poor start to the season, are still relatively close to the Champions League places after 11 games and there had even been murmurs of a title challenge ahead of this clash, such is the bizarre nature of this campaign.

Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had intended for his side to be in and around the leading pack come the festive period and it’s a challenge that his players have so far accepted.

But, at some point, the shackles are going to have to come off in the league. The quality has got to shine through instead of just relying on the quick thinking and fast pace of the forwards to salvage points.

It was a Manchester derby lacking in all departments and not just the 76,000 fans who would usually be inside Old Trafford. It lacked passion, fire, intensity and, most importantly, it lacked excitement as the two cross-city rivals traded blows in the league for the first time this season.

It produced just four shots on target overall and no goals in a Manchester derby for the first time since 2017.

The cautious approach from Solskjaer, with a diamond in midfield, was understandable. Although he is relaxed about his position - and there is nothing to suggest his job is under immediate threat - it is easy to see why he set his side up the way he did.

They had been stung here by Tottenham and Arsenal this season and they didn’t need to add City to that list, especially off the back of that disappointing defeat in midweek against RB Leipzig in the Champions League.

It was a solid display by United’s back line as they restricted an uncharacteristically tame City side to just two shots on goal; David de Gea was called into action only once - to block Riyad Mahrez’s first-half effort.

The battle in midfield was balanced too with Paul Pogba starting his first league game since the defeat to Arsenal here over a month ago.

Solskjaer had said the Frenchman needed to do his talking on the pitch after the comments from his outspoken agent Mino Raiola earlier this week. He was involved in the positive forward moves when United did manage to fashion chances.

Solskjaer screamed from the touchline for his United players to press, and their intensity off the ball was forcing City into errors. There was plenty for the manager to be pleased with. He even claimed to be more impressed by this display than the performance his side put in at the Etihad last season when they won.

But more concerning is United’s lack of goal threat, especially at Old Trafford. Pep Guardiola spoke after the game about United being ‘so fast up front’ but aside from a Marcus Rashford run - which they thought had won them a penalty in the second half - those speedy darts in behind were missing. The build-up play was slow and laboured. 

United never looked like getting the goal which would have secured an important three points and their fifth consecutive league win. Solskjaer was pleased by the discipline, attitude and reaction from his team following their European elimination and pointed towards City’s defensive approach as a reason why they struggled to break Guardiola's side down.

“We want to create more chances than we did today,” he admitted afterwards. 

But there have been six home games in the league this season and United have scored just three goals. Significantly, two of those have come from the penalty spot. They have already failed to score in more home games in the league this season than in the whole of last season and have registered just one home league win this campaign.

If United are serious about pushing back to the top they’re going to have to find a way of creating those chances and getting the goals they need. Otherwise they might find themselves again stood on the periphery looking in.

It’s a step in the right direction, just a very slow one.