You could hardly blame City’s players if they were sick of the sight of Jose Mourinho and his side as the Tigers faced Manchester United for the third time in just over three weeks.
The previous two match-ups saw one win apiece, yet it was United who progressed into the EFL Cup final by virtue of their 3-2 win on aggregate. Nonetheless, City proved that they were no pushovers in these games, giving supporters a glimmer of hope that they might just be able to take something from Old Trafford.
Sunday’s abject display at Fulham led to Marco Silva making four changes for the trip to Manchester, with Dawson, Maguire, Tymon and Niasse all coming into the starting XI. Mourinho had the luxury of making nine changes following the 4-0 victory over Wigan in the FA Cup by his ‘reserve’ side.
Andy Robertson – thankfully still at the club – was forced to make a crucial interception to deny the hosts a clear chance early in the game, but it was City who had the first real opportunity. Evandro’s free-kick was met at the far post by Harry Maguire, the big centre-back heading marginally wide to give Mourinho’s men a scare.
On 15 minutes, Jakupovic made one of many fine saves as he tipped Ibrahimovic’s 25-yard effort round the post. Manchester United were certainly on top, as you would expect, yet they were struggling to breach City’s stubborn defensive line. Daley Blind volleyed an ambitious shot over the crossbar and Ibrahimovic had a half-chance when Pogba set him up, but Jakupovic saved the Swedish striker’s effort comfortably.
Pogba had the home side’s last sight of goal of the first half, forcing an excellent save out of Jakupovic at his near post. You sensed that if City were to hang on for a point, the man who has become a firm fan’s favourite over recent months would need to keep up this kind of form. Rooney was brought on for Michael Carrick at half-time as Mourinho looked to sharpen up United’s attack.
The second 45 started slowly, City looking relatively comfortable as they held their shape and prevented the home side from penetrating their back-line. This comfort was shaken when Pogba’s long pass found Rashford, the young Englishman controlling the ball expertly before dragging a shot narrowly wide of the post. Rashford was involved again minutes later as he set up Ibrahimovic, but the man known simply as ‘Zlatan’ could only fire wide.
Marco Silva responded by ringing the changes, making three substitutions in six minutes. Ranocchia came on for his debut in place of Josh Tymon, while soon after Niasse and Evandro were replaced by Hernandez and Elabdellaoui respectively. The system appeared to have been altered from a 4-4-1-1 to a more familiar 3-5-1-1.
On 72 minutes, United had a golden chance to take the lead. Herrera’s superb delivery to the back post was headed across goal by Chris Smalling, and Juan Mata – who had come onto the field moments earlier – looked to have a tap in from three yards out, but Jakupovic somehow scrambled across his goal to save Mata’s shot on the line, and City averted the danger for the time being.
It was apparent that the home side were becoming desperate, no more so when Ibrahimovic took a blatant dive in the penalty area having deliberately forced contact with Tom Huddlestone. Thankfully, referee Mike Jones was having none of it.
Sam Clucas, Lazar Markovic and David Meyler all received yellow cards for various offences, yet these were small skirmishes on a resolute display. Rooney was booked for dissent as he agitated for a penalty that never was. On 86 minutes, Old Trafford was almost stunned into silence as Markovic hit the post from the edge of the area. Minutes later Hernandez looked to be through on goal, but a lack of composure meant that De Gea was able to save his tame effort comfortably.
There was time for more heroics from Jakupovic as he made a fine save from Pogba’s curling shot in injury time. City’s defence held out for the remainder of the match to claim their first point away from home since September 10th. Although Jakupovic was in top form, being called on to rescue City on more than a few occasions, this was a fantastic team display that will lift the morale of both players and supporters. We can now look forward to a sell-out at the KCOM for Saturday afternoon’s fixture against an out-of-sorts Liverpool.
Harry Drew (@hdrew95)