Fellaini sent off but United holds City to 0-0 in EPL derby
MANCHESTER: Manchester United held on following Marouane Fellaini's late sending-off for headbutting Sergio Aguero to draw 0-0 at Manchester City in the English Premier League on Thursday, keeping the race for Champions League qualification congested.
A physical midfielder never far from on-field flashpoints, Fellaini had just been booked for tripping Aguero when he fouled the City striker again, before confronting him and connecting with a butt to earn a straight red card in the 84th minute.
There were just 19 seconds between the two cards being shown.
United manager Jose Mourinho didn't criticise his midfielder for his recklessness, saying Fellaini felt he was sent off only because of his reputation and Aguero perhaps overreacted.
"I saw Aguero in the tunnel," Mourinho said. "No broken nose, no broken head, his face as nice as always. If Sergio doesn't go to the floor, for sure it's not a red card, although Marouane gave him the chance to do that."
Fellaini's actions, which resulted in his third red card in nine years in English soccer, nearly undermined another dogged defensive effort by United in the 174th Manchester derby.
City sent on fit-again striker Gabriel Jesus after Fellaini's departure in an attempt to grab a late goal and the striker had a stoppage-time headed goal disallowed for offside in a tense finish at Etihad Stadium.
Mourinho's defensive tactics suffocated another heavyweight rival — it resembled an attack-vs-defence exercise in the second half — but whether a goalless draw does United any good is open to question with a month left in the season.
The result kept Mourinho's injury-hit team in fifth place, both a place and a point behind City with five games remaining in the race for a top-four finish to qualify for the Champions League. Liverpool is a point ahead of City, and has played a game more than both Manchester clubs, while Arsenal is four points behind United with a game in hand.
"City will finish top four," Mourinho said. "The matches they have to play I see them doing that. I think it's between us, Arsenal, and Liverpool."
United has a difficult run-in, with trips to come to Tottenham and Arsenal, and is still involved in the Europa League, with a two-leg semi-final looming against Celta Vigo. Its squad is also ravaged by injury, a situation that won't be helped by Fellaini's upcoming three-game suspension.
By becoming only the second team, after Stoke, to stop City from scoring at home this season, United extended its unbeaten run in the league to 24 games dating to October and a loss at Chelsea.
Mourinho masterminded a 0-0 draw against Liverpool at Anfield in October, stopping at the time the league's most prolific attack, and recently delivered a tactical masterclass in a 2-0 win over first-place Chelsea.
He relishes churning out results in the big games, especially against a managerial rival like City's Pep Guardiola, and his approach for this one was clear and expected — defend in two blocks and strike on the counterattack using the long ball and the pace of forwards Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.
It worked to an extent, although it wasn't pretty.
"We have the talent," City manager Pep Guardiola said, "but it's not easy with so many players behind the ball."
Mourinho said United was "the best team in the first half and ... the best team in the second half. They were amazing, the way they fight."
Rashford was particularly lively in the first half, outsprinting defender Nicolas Otamendi with embarrassing ease on occasions, and City was often thankful for the composure of fit-again captain Vincent Kompany alongside Otamendi at the back.
City might be challenging for the title — and not just a place in the top four — had Kompany stayed injury-free this season.
After the break, Rashford was left increasingly isolated up front as United sat back even more. City was utterly dominant, restricting its opponent to just seven touches in United's attacking third, but couldn't find a way past goalkeeper David De Gea.
City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo was carried off on a stretcher with a calf injury moments before Fellaini's red card after injuring himself collecting a corner. He had little else to do.
In three matches between City and United this season — two in the league and the other in the League Cup — Mourinho and Guardiola have earned one win each and drawn the other.