Marouane Fellaini received a straight red card for a headbutt on Sergio Aguero as Manchester United defended resolutely to earn a point in a disappointing goal-less Manchester Derby at the Etihad stadium.
The Belgian midfielder had a minute to forget as he received a yellow card for fouling Aguero. Seconds later, he fouled the striker again who got up in anger and squared up to Fellaini, who lost his cool and pushed his head into the Argentinian. Martin Atkinson had no choice but to show a straight red card with six minutes remaining.
City created the first clear cut chance of the game as Aguero hit the outside of the post from four yards out. United could have taken the lead as Claudio Bravo was typically hesitant at dealing with a looping ball and slapped it into the path of Armenian Mkhitaryan, who fired straight into the grateful arms of the keeper.
The best chance of the game fell to the unmarked Ander Herrera who directed his header wide of the post from an in-swinging delivery from the lively Marcus Rashford.
Gabriel Jesus had the ball in the net with a couple of minutes remaining only for the linesman to put his flag up for offside. City hardly tested United goalkeeper De Gea as the Reds move to 24 games unbeaten in the Premier League.
United remain fifth, one point behind City and two points behind Liverpool with a game in hand.
United boss Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports: “We wanted to do more in terms of attacking and to explore more of the counter attack. In the first half we had good control but the second became more difficult. We had to make a decision to play for the draw and had to fight hard to take a point.
“I didn’t watch the Fellaini incident on TV but I spoke with Fellaini. I guess it’s a bit of a red card and a bit of a very smart, very experienced Argentinian player.”
Manchester United captain Michael Carrick on Sky Sports: “It’s a point gained. We thought we could catch City on the break and we did have a couple of chances. It makes things more difficult when you go down to 10 men.”
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola on BBC Sport: “I am satisfied. I know how difficult it is to play against Manchester United. Every game until the last game now will be a final.”
Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany on Sky Sports: “We got a point. It’s not bad but we never felt like the game was difficult. Rashford and Martial have so much ability and such a bright future ahead. They are lightning quick and with a bit more experience can cause a lot more trouble.”
United will feel that decisions went against them from referee Atkinson, as Mkhitaryan and Rashford were fouled cynically by Fernandinho and Otamendi, who both escaped without a yellow card. Herrera was also angered by a fierce challenge from Fernandinho, who surprisingly went into the interval without a booking.
It seemed to be a City tactic to disrupt the runs of Rashford off the ball, with many instances of shirt pulling going unseen by the officials. Rashford was constantly in the ear of Atkinson telling him to keep an eye out for challenges off the ball but the referee didn’t seem to spot anything.
Anthony Martial was also on the receiving end of an off the ball foul from Kompany and the tactic was hugely frustrating for the United attackers.
The red card for Fellaini is a difficult one. The Belgian does lean his head into Aguero and makes contact, and as Jose said it was very clever from the striker to get Fellaini to react. I think it was a red card and it was in the heat of the moment but we showed that defensively, we can get the job done.
Mourinho started Rashford out wide, but throughout the half the front three of United kept rotating positions. This was disrupting the City defence and it ultimately led to United’s first half chance of the game as Rashford got beyond Kolarov and laid the ball off to Herrera, who curled the ball towards the back post which Zabaleta had to turn behind for a corner. City had been given their first warning sign.
They didn’t learn and were nearly punished when Rashford outpaced Otamendi to the ball and was racing through only for the defender to get a crucial touch on the ball to send it out for a corner kick.
The interchanging of the United attackers kept the City defenders guessing and also helped out the United fullbacks defensively. Each player was taking turns in the wide role to track the attacking City fullbacks whilst the centre forward would get somewhat of a breather. The tactic worked well as United shut off the supply lines from wide areas which restricted City’s chances of scoring.
It was clear to see that United were missing the presence of Paul Pogba in midfield as we could hardly string together 10 passes in the second half. The Frenchman would have added flair in the midfield and given us more in an attacking sense. The front three put a really good shift in and their attitude was spot on throughout the game.
Pep Guardiola showed that he trusts Claudio Bravo by selecting him to start in goal but the Chilean made an absolute howler which nearly resulted in a United goal. It seemed like a deflected cross would be a routine catch for Bravo, who instead flapped the ball straight into the path of Mkhitaryan, but the Armenian fired straight into the arms of the relieved Chilean.
City had majority of the possession but could not find a way through United’s solid backline. They were limited to long range efforts which were comfortable for David De Gea. Even in the absence of Rojo, Smalling and Jones, United were solid at the back with Daley Blind fitting in perfectly at centre back.
Overall, the result keeps us in the hunt for a top 4 position, with a win in our game in hand taking us above Liverpool. United face Swansea next at Old Trafford this Sunday in a must win game.
What did you think of the game? A point gained or two points dropped?
Did Fellaini deserve the red card?
Let us know by leaving a comment below, or by tweeting us @UnitedStandMUFC or my personal account @AbzMulla6.