Ole Gunnar Solskjær praised the goalless draw with Manchester City as the best derby performance in his time as Manchester United’s manager, commending the mental toughness needed to bounce back from Tuesday’s Champions League exit.
United, needing only a draw, failed to qualify for the last 16 after losing 3-2 at Leipzig. That defeat renewed scrutiny of Solskjær’s position and raised more questions about the direction of the team. Yet after the stalemate at Old Trafford, in which Pep Guardiola’s team were unusually becalmed, Solskjær declared himself pleased.
“In my time against Manchester City that’s the best performance we have had,” he said. “Not the best result but the best performance. It’s a mental challenge when that happens to you [going out of Champions League]. The mental energy you spend trying to recover from Tuesday is huge.
“It was a big blow during the week so the way they recovered, worked, and how ready for the game my players were – I was very pleased with it, they had an exceptional attitude. We had some moments where we had to defend, in the second half there were times they pegged us back. But we stuck at it, defended really well.
“I’m happy with a clean sheet – in games like this when you have margins you can win or lose, so it is a fair result.”
Solskjær has lost two of his six derbies as United manager and all three of his victories came last season when United achieved a home and away league double, winning 2-0 at Old Trafford and 2-1 at the Etihad, while also beating City 1-0 in an EFL Cup semi-final second leg at City’s stadium. He added: “It was the best [in a derby] because of our possession on the ball, the control we had.
“Last year at the Etihad in the league we could have blown them away from the 10th to 25th minute, with some unbelievable counterattacking goals, but we had 30% possession, and in the second half we were hanging on. I know we beat them a few times last season but those were different games. Today it was two good teams. Tactically we knew they were going to give us some problems but defensively we were excellent. I’m delighted with the defensive shape. With the ball we didn’t create as much as we wanted to.
Solskjær believes City were wary of his team. “Maybe they were because they had more respect for us – we’ve developed,” he said.
City’s manager stated his pride after a sixth consecutive clean sheet from his side in all competitions. “This is a team – they kill you when you let them run, when you are not attacking in the proper way, they kill you,” Guardiola said. “We have to be solid in terms of controlling the game and not concede counterattacks. I am so proud. When they ran with Rashford, Greenwood, Martial, Fernandes – they are there [in the danger areas]. United is always a strong team, this is Old Trafford and they [were knocked] out of the Champions League. They score when they can run but we controlled them really well.
“Coming here and playing the game we played and to take the point: this is quite good. I know the expectation for our team is always so high and we accept this but it’s good.”
The draw leaves United on 20 points and City on 19 after 11 matches, both of the teams outside the top four, though each has a game in hand. Sergio Agüero was fit but was not selected on Friday for the match-day squad before suffering an illness on Saturday. Guardiola was asked if the centre-forward will be fit for West Brom’s visit on Tuesday evening.
“Today was a problem in the stomach. It’s step by step [so we will see],” he said.