- United still a point back of 4th; 5 games to go
- De Gea’s six saves held City scoreless
- Aguero’s shooting exhibition a failure: 8 shots, 2 SOG
Thursday’s Manchester derby, which was supposed to provide a bit of clarity in the battle between Manchester City and Manchester United as the two sides vie for a place in the Premier League’s top-four, saw one side set out to play soccer and score, while the other executed another of Jose Mourinho’s disciplined defensive performances.
The affair ended a 0-0 draw at Man City’s Etihad Stadium.
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The game’s first chance came and went after 10 uneventful minutes. Kevin De Bruyne whipped in a ball of his typically high standard and found Sergio Aguero at the back post. The Argentine, who entered Thursday’s showdown in irresistible form (a goal scored in six straight games – all competitions; 12 goals in his last 12 games), hit the outside of the post from three yards out, and Red Devils the world over exhaled.
Aguero would be active and heavily involved throughout, piling up a season-high number of shots against United only five minutes into the second half.
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It was De Bruyne who sent City fans into premature raptures not long before the hour mark, as the Belgian unleashed a powerful, dipping strike from 25 yards out that bulged the side and back netting from the outside. David De Gea likely had his near post covered should the strike have been on target, but the chance was a sign of things to come.
Wave after wave of City counter-attacks followed, and City would ultimately out-shoot United, who it should be noted were without an injured Paul Pogba, by a final tally of 19-3 (6-1 on target).
The evening’s most notable event occurred in the 84th minute. Marouane Fellaini had been booked about 30 seconds earlier, and the Belgian committed a nothing foul on Aguero as he raced through midfield. Aguero took exception to Fellaini’s challenge and voiced his displeasure as he got to his feet. Fellaini responded with a headbutt five yards in front of referee Martin Atkinson, who was looking directly at the confrontation.
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City finally put the ball past De Gea in the first minute of second-half stoppage time, but Gabriel Jesus, who returned to action after missing nearly three months with a broken foot, was correctly flagged as offside.
With the draw, United remain a point back of City in their bid to qualify for the UEFA Champions League. Perhaps more importantly, though, 1) their unbeaten run in PL play is now 23 games; 2) they have moved to within two points of third-place Liverpool, and have a game in hand on the Reds. While Mourinho says publicly that wining the Europa League is United’s most likely path into next season’s CL, multiple avenues for qualification through the PL have presented themselves.