This was no El'Clasico but at the end of the game, both Manchester teams could reflect on a result that was acceptable in terms of reaching their goals for this particular season, the performance though, told a different story.
At the start of the week, Barcelona and Real Madrid, sides once managed by both men in the dug out of the Manchester derby, put on a display of football at the highest level, a level both Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola aspire to take their current sides to.
However, Thursday night's derby was evidence that both men still have a lot of work to do.
There were mitigating circumstances for both sides, especially for the reds. Manchester City were missing their most creative player in David Silva and Manchester United theirs in Paul Pogba, the stand ins did not do well. Raheem Sterling who came in for Silva lacks the final ball and clinical finishing of the Spanish playmaker while Marouane Fellaini lacked the athleticism and passing range of Pogba. As a result, both teams suffered.
United's tactical plan was greatly hindered by Fellaini's limited passing range and inability to carry the ball forward. For all the criticisms levelled at Pogba, on the few occasions he has been missing, United have looked a much poorer side. With Ander Herrera morphing again into Ngolo Kante, with another all action performance in midfield which included ensuring he never left Michael Carrick isolated with one of City's more fleet footed attacking players, the onus was on the lanky Belgian to provide the creativity. Marouane Fellaini has his merits, and I don’t just mean elbows and headbutts, but creating chances is not one of them and so it became a long night for the reds, even before the Belgian was sent off, as the tactic of the two breaks (breaking up play and then breaking on the counter) became breaking up play and then giving possession right back to the City players.
It is worth noting as well that United were also missing their leading goal scorer, Zlatan Ibrahimović. In the absence of Pogba, the Swedish target man would have provided a different option for United's midfielders, one that Fellaini might have found easier to execute.
As for City, in the absence of David Silva, they were unable to break United’s battle hardened and injury decimated defence. Try as they might they couldn't penetrate the red wall and huffed and puff with no success. Sterling who replaced Silva in the starting line up, showed a lot of good build up play but lacked the end product while United's dogged defending limited Kevin De Bruyne’s ability to affect the game as he did in the first derby of the season, with a special mention for the man mountain that Eric Bailly again proved to be.
Mitigating circumstances aside, both managers will know they have fallen well short of expectations this season. Worrying for United, was that they played like a team who believed they were inferior to City and questions will remain as to why United could not stand toe to toe with them as Real Madrid do even with against a Lionel Messi led Barcelona. Mourinho in his defence, will point to the absence of Pogba, Ibrahimović and Marcos Rojo in particular as well as United's gruelling fixture list as reasons for their more defensive performance and you have to admit that there is a lot of merit to that argument.
For Manchester City, the questions are a bit more of a puzzle. Even without Silva, the City team still had De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane, Yaya Touré and later on Gabriel Jesus. In addition, they played the last 7 minutes at least of the game against 10 men. In a game where their defensive frailties were not allowed to be an issue because the team had so much of the ball, the City team still struggled to create clear cut chances. There are few upgrades in the world of football to De Bruyne and Aguero and so Guardiola has more pondering to do on how to get his team to the next level.
Added to this is the strong possibility that neither managers will stay in the Premier league beyond 3 seasons. Guardiola for one hasn't do more than three years at a club historically, while in spite of Mourinho's declarations of wanting to be at United forever, his combustible style, which has already seen him in his first year criticise players in public for not making themselves available for selection even when they are incapable of playing, means it is unlikely any club can put up with him for more than three years. It appears therefore, that these 2 illustrious coaches may have no more than two years to deliver on their remits of turning their respective clubs into world super powers, clubs that are capable of producing derbies as exciting as the El Clasico.
If they do succeed, won't that be a treat. But for the meantime, the clock is ticking.