United were held to a scoreless stalemate by Valencia in a frustrating first home game in the Champions League campaign.
The Reds have now got four points on the board in Group H with this draw added to the opening 3-0 win against Young Boys in Switzerland. But against a Valencia side struggling in La Liga, Jose Mourinho’s side couldn’t find the killer touch to join Juventus in making a 100 per cent start in Europe.
A European atmosphere was just what Mourinho’s side needed after the struggle in London. There was certainly a response from the team seeking successive Group H section victories.
Valencia have not had the best of times themselves in La Liga this season, winning just the once in seven league matches. They finished fourth behind Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid last season but are currently lying a disappointing 14th and they lost their opening Champions League group match against Juventus in Spain.
However, Marcelino’s side looked a different proposition at Old Trafford and United needed to be much improved to secure a foothold in the match.
With manager Mourinho choosing an attacking looking side with forwards Marcus Rashford, Alexis and Romelu Lukaku all in the line-up, the home fans expected the Reds to be on the front foot. It was Rashford, buoyed by his sublime goal at West Ham, who took the game to Valencia and crashed in a couple of shots to ensure keeper Neto was on his toes.
For their part, the Spaniards answered with some neat and slick build-up play that was good for their travelling supporters to watch but once they got to the final third it all fell apart for them and David De Gea was able to enjoy an easy first half.
United fans were encouraged by the Reds' robust early challenges as the likes of Eric Bailly and Marouane Fellaini won the second ball time and again. However, Valencia realised they’d have to dish something out as well to survive and three of their players - Francis Coquelin, Rodrigo and captain Daniel Parejo - were all booked before the interval. The game became a touch scrappy when neither side could find a breakthrough.
United were unable to start the second half in the same lively fashion as the first period and the contest overall became a bit sluggish. That said, Valencia’s danger man from the opening 45 minutes, Goncalo Guedes, went reasonably close to breaking the deadlock again in the early exchanges after the break with a curling shot that went just wide.
The Old Trafford crowd decided it was time to intervene. The crowd raised the decibels again and issued an ‘attack, attack, attack’ reminder to the Reds who responded to the encouragement from the stands.
At last the Spanish side were rocking at the back with Pogba going close and a succession of corners raising the temperature and threat level. Pogba was again in the thick of it as he fired in a free kick which needed touching over the bar by Neto.
There was always a counter-attack concern and Michy Batshuayi, on loan to Valencia from Chelsea, blasted over in the 67th minute to add another warning. United had ammo up their own sleeves as well and when Pogba released Lukaku in the 70th minute it needed another Neto stop to keep the score at 0-0.
Mourinho’s first throw of the dice to attempt to find a late winner came as he replaced Alexis with substitute Anthony Martial as we entered the last 15 minutes.
Goncalo Guedes let United off the hook soon after Martial’s appearance when he decided to pull the ball back in a shooting position rather than pull the trigger.
It was getting hairy at both ends of the pitch as United and Valencia searched for the elusive goal.
The Stretford End were on their feet when Martial was brought down under their noses but referee Slavko Vincic judged the foul to have been committed outside the penalty area.
The tight angle didn’t matter to Rashford who thundered in the free kick and struck the top of the crossbar before Lukaku followed up soon after with a header just over the frame.
That was the final action of note, as the Spaniards saw out the 0-0 draw to take home a point ahead of their back-to-back meetings with Young Boys. As for the Reds, the next game in Europe will be the biggest of the lot - Group H leaders Juventus come to Old Trafford on 23 October.
United: De Gea, Valencia, Bailly, Smalling, Shaw; Matic, Fellaini, Pogba; Rashford, Alexis (Martial 75), Lukaku
Subs not used: Romero, Darmian, Lindelof, Fred, McTominay, Mata
Valencia: Neto, Piccini, Garay, Gabriel, Gaya, Coquelin (Soler78), Parejo, Kondogbia, Gonzalo Guedes (Cheryshev 82), Batshuayi (Gameiro 72), Rodrigo
Subs not used: Domenech, Vezo, Diakhaby, Wass
Booked: United - Lukaku. Valencia - Coquelin, Rodrigo, Parejo, Piccini, Gaya, Kondogbia
United are back at Old Trafford again this Saturday 6 October, to play Newcastle United in the Premier League. Kick-off is at 17:30 BST
United v Valencia Gallery
The images you need to see from the Champions League game at Old Trafford.