Manchester: Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal attempted to shield Wayne Rooney from criticism after the striker turned in a laborious display in a 0-0 draw with Manchester City.
United controlled possession in Sunday’s 170th derby at Old Trafford, but had to wait until the closing stages to create any chances, with Jesse Lingard hitting the bar and Chris Smalling forcing Joe Hart to save.
For the third game running, Rooney started up front, but he was eclipsed by teammate Anthony Martial, lining up on the left, who was United’s most dangerous attacking player and set up Lingard’s chance with a dinked pass.
Van Gaal refused to discuss Rooney’s performance, however, telling his post-match press conference: “I have to talk every week about Rooney. Why?”
When it was put to him that it was because the United captain is one of his team’s star players, Van Gaal told his interlocutor: “Then you have to write it down. It is your opinion.
“I don’t give any more answers about Wayne Rooney because I am sick of them.”
Playing the day after his 30th birthday, Rooney was looking to extend his all-time record of 11 derby goals and equal Denis Law’s United tally of 237 goals, and yet failed to record a single attempt at goal.
But he was not alone in that regard as United hit the target only once, through Smalling, and Van Gaal revealed that he had asked his players at half-time: “Why don’t you shoot?”
His exasperation did not end there, as he also rued referee Mark Clattenburg’s decision not to award United a penalty early in the second half after Ander Herrera appeared to be caught by Raheem Sterling.
“We don’t have the luck either because I have seen on the video that Herrera, it was a penalty, but the referee was not giving us that benefit,” he said.
United did not register an attempt at goal in the first half for the first time in a Premier League game since the 2003-04 season, while it took until the 82nd minute for either side to muster a shot on target, with City substitute Jesus Navas tamely shooting at David de Gea.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini said that he had not had a clear view of Herrera’s penalty claim and praised Clattenburg for a “good” performance.
His team had scored 11 goals in their previous two league games, thrashing Newcastle United 6-1 and crushing Bournemouth 5-1, and Pellegrini admitted that he was not a fan of cagey encounters like Sunday’s match.
But he took heart from the defensive steel that City had displayed, particularly when United got on top in the second half. “I don’t know if we played to our best,” said the Chilean, whose side returned to the league summit, above Arsenal on goal difference, with United two points back in fourth place.
“I always read a lot of media say when teams get points playing away they are very tactical and very ‘mind games’.
“I don’t like it, it’s not our normal way to do it, but if we need [to], we can do it. One point here is not bad. We continue at the top of the table.”
City were once again without attacking figurehead Sergio Aguero and chief creator David Silva, as well as Samir Nasri, Fabian Delph and Gael Clichy.
Pellegrini does not expect Silva to return from an ankle injury for “some days”, while Aguero will not be back until late next month, and in their absences, he can only hope that City do not miss them too dearly.
“Maybe with Nasri, Silva, Aguero and Delph we can have other options to start and options for substitutes to win the game. We have also Clichy,” he said.
“With such important players out, we must try to continue winning the games that we are playing and hope that we can recover all of them as soon as possible.”