Wayne Rooney once again struggled to lead the line for Manchester United as he failed to cap his 30th birthday weekend with a goal.
The game was filled with passion and intensity from the off, but produced little of note until the final ten minutes when Jesse Lingard struck the crossbar and Chris Smalling forced a fine save from Joe Hart.
Despite the multitude of attacking talent on show at Old Trafford, it was a game that lacked any quality in the final third as both defences prevailed.
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In fact, United’s first-half performance broke a 12-year record as the Red Devils failed to register a single effort on goal in the opening 45 minutes.
Manchester City fared no better; having forked out over £100 million over the summer to bring in Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne, the two wide men failed to fashion any real clear-cut opportunities.
The absence of Sergio Aguero and David Silva was significant for the Citizens and they were more than happy to leave their neighbour’s backyard with a hard-earned point. Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to introduce Martin Demichelis for Yaya Toure with 13 minutes remaining signalled their intentions.
But for Rooney it proved to be another frustrating afternoon as his struggles continued.
Man of the moment Anthony Martial was forced to play on the left once again and he did well to nullify the threat of Bacary Sagna.
The teenage sensation was one of United’s most threatening players and his mazy runs led to yellow cards for Vincent Kompany and Fernandinho.
The former AS Monaco man did exactly what was asked of him by his Dutch manager and Van Gaal will undoubtedly be pleased with his performance.
However, the recent trend of Martial playing out wide has to stop if Manchester United are to mount a serious title challenge this season.
Of course, the form of Memphis Depay has led to this shift in position for the September Player of the Month, but Rooney’s performances as the lone striker this season have left a lot to be desired.
He looked to have rediscovered his form at Goodison Park last weekend as he starred in United’s 3-0 win over Everton, but that appeared to be a flash in the pan during what has, on the whole, been a hugely disappointing campaign for the United and England captain.
Rooney rarely troubled Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi. The now 30-year-old registered just a single shot on goal – which was blocked – and was dispossessed six times.
70,000 United fans groaned in unison as Rooney’s wayward pass to Martial ended what looked to be a promising attack.
He did draw a cheer from the Old Trafford crowd, though, when he won an aerial battle with Kompany. But the flick on went out for a throw-in. A sign of the times for Rooney.
It’s now just two goals in nine league games for the former Everton man and his target of 20 strikes this season looks a long way off.
There are still question marks over his best position in Van Gaal’s side, but with every passing game, the thought of the Croxteth-born forward leading the line becomes less appealing for Red Devils fans.
On a weekend where Rooney's glittering career has been celebrated, it is sad to see his recent decline continue. But the time has come to question what he is currently offering on the field for Manchester United.
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