Nowhere is the COVID-enforced absence of Premier League supporters more keenly felt than during derby matches. Old rivals Leeds and Manchester United played out a drab 0-0 at Elland Road on Sunday, in a game sorely lacking the urgency compelled by a roaring crowd of 40,000 fans.
The first half was distinctly lacking in quality, with United edging proceedings but unable to break the deadlock. Marcus Rashford had the best chance inside the first few minutes, when he was picked out by a brilliant Victor Lindelöf pass, but the striker’s first touch was lacking, and wasted what otherwise would have been a one-on-one with goalkeeper Illan Meslier.
Otherwise, United’s only other opportunities came from set-pieces. Harry Maguire might have done better when a free kick bounced into his path early on, but he was slow to react and clumsily nudged the ball over the bar. In the final seconds of the half, a brilliant long-range Rashford free-kick dipped and swerved, and required a strong touch over the top from Meslier.
At the other end, Dean Henderson had almost nothing to do. Leeds offered very little in attack, and had failed to register a single shot on target by the interval. They appealed for a penalty midway through the half, when the ball bounced off Luke Shaw’s arm in the penalty box, but VAR ruled in the defender’s favour.
Happily, the second half brought a little more goalmouth action, at both ends of the pitch. The first chance was United’s, coming as Aaron Wan-Bissaka scampered down the right and pulled back for Bruno Fernandes, though the Portuguese midfielder fired wide under pressure. A few minutes later Mason Greenwood found space behind the Leeds defence, but was denied by a Meslier stop at the near post.
Two minutes past the hour, Rashford found Dan James in the penalty area, though the Welshman took too long to set himself for a shot, and Ezgjan Alioski recovered possession. Leeds immediately surged forward on the counter-attack, with a long diagonal pass finding Hélder Costa in space on the left side of the United half. His shot took a heavy deflection off Wan-Bissaka’s foot, and looped inches over the crossbar.
Despite a marginal improvement in excitement in the second half, neither side came away with anything to show for their efforts. Ole Gunnar Solskjær introduced Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani and Donny van de Beek in a bid to nick a winner, but his changes proved too little—or at least too late. After a disappointing 90 minutes, the final whistle sounded like sweet relief.