Manchester United eased the mounting pressure on manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but an uninspired 0-0 draw with Manchester City on Saturday did little for either side’s chances of mounting a Premier League title challenge.
United remain a point better off than their local rivals in the table but sit seventh, five points off Tottenham and Liverpool at the top of the table, while City slip to ninth.
Solskjaer’s men may well be the happier side to take a point after crashing out of the Champions League at the group stages with a defeat to RB Leipzig on Tuesday.
But the Red Devils have won just one of their opening six home league games this season and look set for another campaign where a top-four finish rather than a title tilt will be the target.
City recorded a sixth straight clean sheet as Pep Guardiola has set about improving their defensive record.
However, that has come at the cost of the thrilling football that City showed in their two title-winning campaigns under the Catalan in 2017/18 and 2018/19.
Both sides were cautious throughout as the first Manchester derby without a crowd never sparked into life.
United only seriously threatened from corners as Scott McTominay, who scored the last goal at Old Trafford in front of fans when the sides last met in March, was inches away from connecting with Victor Lindelof’s near post flick-on.
Lindelof and Harry Maguire also headed off target from set-pieces, but it was City who created the better chances on the few occasions they moved the ball at pace.
Gabriel Jesus fired over from Riyad Mahrez’s ball over the top, but it was Mahrez who was guilty of passing up the best opening when he fired too close to David de Gea after brilliant work by Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne.
The visitors were handed a reprieve early in the second-half when Kyle Walker was penalised for clipping Marcus Rashford inside the area.
A VAR review showed Rashford was offside as he received the ball and United were denied a 32nd penalty in the last two seasons.
City pushed the hosts back, but continued to lack the precision and penetration to cause the United defence problems.
De Bruyne always looked the most likely candidate to produce a winner and the Belgian’s goalbound shot was bravely blocked by Maguire.
At the other end, Bruno Fernandes took two pot shots from outside the box, but the Portuguese’s first effort was easily saved by Ederson and the second ended up closer to the corner flag than the top corner to sum up a miserable match.