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A subdued Derby ended with an underwhelming goalless score line. In truth, both sides set up not to lose the game and in effect largely cancelled each other out.
Chances were few and far between and Lingard was unlucky when he struck the woodwork late on but neither side ever really created a sustained period of pressure in the final third. United may rue a missed opportunity with the likes of Aguero and Silva missing but with just 2 points separating the top 3 in the Premier League both sides will be fairly content as things stand.
Here are 5 things we learned from the stalemate with the Blues from across the city.
1) Solid Schneiderlin
One big positive from Sunday’s game was the performance of Morgan Schneiderlin. Together with Bastian Schweinsteiger the Frenchman provided a solid platform for the Reds and afforded great protection to United’s defence.
The former Southampton man displayed good discipline and composure in possession and certainly showed why so many questioned his omission from the game away at Arsenal a few weeks ago. The holding midfielder was brought in to the squad for exactly these types of games and United rarely looked threatened in truth.
Controlling midfield against the better sides has been a concern in recent years but Schneiderlin showed that he is capable of anchoring the centre of the park against any opposition.
2) Defensive Strength
Following Phil Jones’ return to full fitness Daley Blind has seen his game time become somewhat more limited. The partnership of Jones and Smalling is a curious one; widely tipped for great success but through injury and inconsistency one that has yet to fully flourish. On Sunday the pair looked assured and displayed a good balance and understanding.
Marcos Rojo also impressed at left-back with the Argentine strong in the tackle and providing the occasional attacking threat. Much was made of the club’s decision not to sign a more experienced defender in the summer but so far this campaign the Reds boast an impressive defensive record.
It should be noted that the slow, possession based football along with two deep lying midfielders has certainly helped in this regard, but again on Sunday Louis van Gaal’s men looked solid against a side considered to be one of the most fluent and creative in the league (albeit without Aguero and Silva).
3) Worries about Wayne
On the weekend of his 30th birthday Wayne Rooney was deployed in a lone striker role and, as is becoming all too prevalent of late, United’s captain failed to impress. When questioned after the game, Louis van Gaal was noticeably perturbed by persistent questioning about Rooney’s form but it is difficult to make a case for the former Everton man’s role to continue on current form.
It should not be forgotten that Rooney brings a lot to the side in terms of leadership and commitment and defensively he remains as good a forward as there is in today’s game. However, it is offensively that United are currently struggling and Sunday yet again demonstrated that the Reds need more from their skipper. Wayne’s inclination (and likely inability to run in behind) is to come deep looking for the ball and it made for an easy afternoon for City’s centre-halves who were able to squeeze up.
It leaves United’s attacking threat predictable and one dimensional and builds frustration as large shares of possession are rarely converted into incisive passages of play going forwards.
4) Youthful Promise?
Once more Anthony Martial looked to be the Reds’ most potent threat. The young Frenchman has been ousted to a wide left role in recent weeks but he continues to look one of very few players capable of a real spark.
It’s disappointing that a player who has given so much since his arrival in a centre forward role has been sacrificed for Wayne Rooney in such poor form. Martial would have offered something different and it’s a surprise that Van Gaal didn’t try switching the United captain and his apparent heir to offer a different threat to City’s back line.
Jesse Lingard also impressed after coming on and has played well when afforded opportunities in recent weeks. United have a proud tradition of producing and nurturing young talent and it is hoped that both Lingard and Martial continue to improve and contribute.
However, mistakes with the likes of Phil Jones should be heeded, a position and identity should be formed and the young talents should be afforded consistent opportunities in their natural positions. For Martial, that is surely at centre forward and if that means sacrificing an under-performing Wayne Rooney then so be it.
5) Title Challengers?
After a solid season returning to the Champions League last campaign, expectations were that United would push on and challenge for silverware this term. Performances so far have been largely underwhelming, but the Reds do remain on course for Qualification in Europe, in both domestic Cup competitions and, following Sunday’s stalemate, just two points from the summit of the Premier League.
In truth, the Reds are probably a little short in terms of squad depth and first XI quality to sustain a title challenge, but Sunday did bring encouragement against arguably their biggest rivals that no side should really hold any fear for Louis van Gaal’s men. The results so far this season have just about been par, but with improved performances surely to come and a League as wide open as it has been in years who knows what might happen come May. Sunday showed that with a bit of luck along the way title 21 may not be out of the question.