Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said his side produced their best performance of his time in charge against Manchester City even though an uninspiring 0-0 draw at Old Trafford did little for their chances of winning the Premier League.
After crashing out of the Champions League at the group stage in midweek, the draw at least saved Solskjaer from another defeat that would have brought more scrutiny of his position as manager.
A share of the spoils also keeps United one point better off than their local rivals. United are seventh, five points off Tottenham and Liverpool at the top, while City slip to ninth.
But there was little to suggest either side will fight their way into the title race.
United beat City three times last season, but Solskjaer pointed to the smash and grab nature of those victories as Pep Guardiola’s men were easily undone on the counter-attack.
“In my time against City, that’s the best performance we’ve had. Not the best result, but the best performance,” said Solskjaer.
“We beat them last season but those were different games, we counter-attacked. Today was the most we’ve been in the game, we kept them away from our box more.
“With the ball we didn’t create as much as we wanted to. They probably had the bigger moments in open play, we had a few moments in corners. Overall, a draw, everyone should be happy with that.”
The Red Devils have won just one of their opening six home league games and look set for another campaign where a top-four finish rather than a title tilt will be the target.
City matched a club record with a sixth straight clean sheet as Guardiola has set about improving their defensive record.
That has come at the cost of the thrilling football that they showed in their two title-winning campaigns under the Catalan in 2017/18 and 2018/19 as the visitors were careful not to be caught on the break.
“Take a look last season how they beat us,” said Guardiola. “The quality of this team is they can play when you let them run. The important thing is we were so solid, we didn’t concede and on average had more chances. The game was tight, respect from both sides, and a good point for us.”
United only seriously threatened from corners as Scott McTominay, who scored the last goal at Old Trafford in front of fans when the sides last met in March, was inches away from connecting with Victor Lindelof’s near post flick-on.
City created the better chances on the few occasions they moved the ball at pace.
Gabriel Jesus fired over from Riyad Mahrez’s ball over the top, but it was Mahrez who was guilty of passing up the best opening in the first half when he fired too close to David de Gea with just the goalkeeper to beat.
The visitors were handed a reprieve early in the second-half when Kyle Walker was penalised for clipping Marcus Rashford inside the area.
A VAR review showed Rashford was offside as he received the ball and United were denied a 32nd penalty in the last two seasons.
City pushed the hosts back in the second-half, but continued to lack the precision and penetration to cause the United defence problems.