United weather storm despite Fellaini red mist
Manchester City 0 Manchester United 0
Jose Mourinho very nearly had Marouane Fellaini to blame for blowing a hole in a classic away-day master plan but even a sending-off as daft as anything the Belgian has done over the course of his career could not undermine a Manchester United draw in a derby that never quite caught light.
Only in the final five minutes of the game did United, sitting deep and soaking up the attacks from Pep Guardiola's team, finally put a foot wrong, or rather Fellaini jabbed his forehead in where it should never have gone.
The United man fell for an old act of provocation from Sergio Aguero who leant his face close enough to invite the headbutt and duly pointed it out for referee Martin Atkinson's attention.
In fact, the referee might have been about to send Fellaini off anyway for a second bookable tackle on Aguero just 19 seconds after the midfielder had committed the first which at the very least shows that he does not have much of a memory.
In the end United's 10 men clung on for the draw which they seemed to have come to secure from the very start and Mourinho will be without Fellaini, dismissed for a straight red, for three games.
As for City, they had 69 per cent of the possession but had only themselves to blame for the lack of cutting edge. Aguero himself failed to hit the target when given the chance and missed one late on when United truly were hanging on. The substitute Gabriel Jesus thought he has the winner but was rightly flagged offside with minutes remaining.
There was a clear strategy from Martin Atkinson in the first half at least to let as much as he could go unpunished, which meant that both teams immediately took it right to the limit of what the referee deemed permissible.
The quality was not always high but it was intense and fraught and by the time they went in for the break both sides had missed good chances to score.
The first fell to Aguero. He struck David De Gea's post from a right-sided cross from Kevin De Bruyne on nine minutes that only needed guiding on target to give City the lead.
For United, it was Herrera in the last regulation minute of the first half who emerged unmarked from a pack awaiting Marcus Rashford's free-kick from the left and headed the ball wide when there was no one near him. United had withstood some heavy pressure from the off although they always had a way out with Rashford's running.
The teenager burned past Nicolas Otamendi on a couple of occasions who recovered well to tackle the second time but up against the striker, the Argentine generally looked like a man trying to run up the down escalator.
One piece of skill where Rashford lifted the ball over Otamendi with the outside of his right heel was a stand-out moment, but there were no clear chances for the striker before the break.
The other fell to Mkhitaryan who was gifted the ball in the area by Claudio Bravo's weak flap at an Anthony Martial cross that just created more problems than it solved.
Sitting back against such a dangerous team, United took a lot of risks with Herrera, Michael Carrick and Fellaini generally doing a good job of dealing with the emergencies around the United box. Aguero was always a danger in those positions, as well as Toure running from deep but City, without David Silva, could not find the kind of clinical finish required.
It was a problem that continued deep into the second half with City unable to carve the clear chances from their domination of ball and territory.
United's strategy was to sit deeper and deeper and with nine outfield players behind the ball prevent City from getting a clear sight of goal.
There were plenty of half-sights, chances too crowded with bodies for a clear hit. De Bruyne struck one wide, Aguero lashed the ball over when Antonio Valencia made a mistake clearing a Pablo Zabaleta cross. Otamendi got to a header but Eric Bailly, who had a good game, managed to get a bit of his head on it too and the ball went wide.
United were doing just enough in one direction and virtually nothing in the other where Rashford was left to occupy the home defence as best he could.
It was a hopeless task for the 19-year-old and there was not much assistance from Mkhitaryan and Martial who seemed too anxious to leave their defensive duties for long enough to get forward.
With little more than 10 minutes left Willy Caballero had to come on to replace Bravo who had injured himself taking a cross in what looked like an innocuous landing. Martial was replaced with Jesse Lingard in what looked like an attempt to get someone closer to Rashford. On the touchline, Mourinho even wandered over to Zabaleta for a chat. The United manager seemed to think it was working out just as he had planned it.
That was until Fellaini fell for oldest trick in the book with Aguero. Having been the first booking moments earlier for a judicious foul on the Argentine in the City half, United's big stick clipped him again and then thrust his forehead into Aguero. Even before Fellaini had got off the pitch, Mourinho was readying Tim Fosu-Mensah to come on and Guardiola was launching Jesus into the game but United held on. (© Daily Telegraph, London)