In English football there is an obsession with analysing everything from the manager's point of view—ignoring in the process the budget, the behaviour of the board and that other minor detail: the form of the players.
So, 15 games in, and starting up north, here’s the first of a two-part report on how the top guys are doing.
Manchester United: David Moyes
Domestically speaking, this is not the best of times for Manchester United’s David Moyes, who knows more than anyone that the club needs a massive overhaul.
Apart from Wayne Rooney, who, at the moment, is carrying the team on his shoulders, what you have is a disjointed set of players who are all playing the game too simply because they are too similar.
What is needed is a variation of players who are willing to fight—including brave midfielders who go box-to-box and wingers that cut inside. Hunger has to be reinstated.
At the back, United need dominant centre-backs who can push the defensive line up high so the whole team can concentrate on keeping, or regaining, possession in their opponents' half.
DM: "I think we could be classed as one of the favourites, but we'll have to improve if we're to keep progressing in the @ChampionsLeague."— Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 10, 2013
United fans need to realise that it will take Moyes at least two years to turn things around, and the kind of players that I know he is looking to buy will definitely bring different layers to both United’s midfield and attack. But it will take time.
Manchester City: Manuel Pellegrini
Meanwhile, noisy neighbours Manchester City are also not without their defensive issues. Injuries to Vincent Kompany haven’t helped, and while the addition of Martin Demichelis has helped strengthen the defence and push higher up the park, it’s easy to see why City were so keen to sign Pepe from Real Madrid in the last transfer window, as reported by the Daily Star's Paul Hetherington back in July.
Pepe showed for Real against Copenhagen just what City are missing, and it’s due in no small part to him that Madrid are playing so well at the moment.
His personality and bravery is the kind of thing needed in Manuel Pellegrini’s very expensive jigsaw. But Real Madrid decided not to let him go, and his contract was renewed.
Poor concentration and over-confidence have also cost City dearly on occasions this season—especially at the start of games—although against Bayern, they managed to do what we’ve known all along they can do, simply because of the depth of talent in their squad, and that’s turn an 0-2 deficit into a 3-2 victory against the best in the world.
But they need to start games better and could possibly do with one or two more players cast in the "battling" mould. Think of a player like Roy Keane at his peak, and you’re getting the idea. And a centre-back similar to Pepe.
Everton: Roberto Martinez
Meanwhile, the managerial success story of the season is at Everton, where Roberto Martinez’s mission to change the culture at the club has been accepted far quicker than anyone could ever have imagined. After some initial protests from the stands, Everton’s key victory over Chelsea was enough to bring everyone onside, and the Toffees have lost just once in the league all season, a 3-1 defeat at Manchester City.
Players are enjoying themselves because they are getting much more of the ball and training sessions are as educational as they are enjoyable.
Liverpool: Brendan Rodgers
Over the way at Anfield, the crowd’s enrapture with the performances of Liverpool’s Luis Suarez disguise an over-dependence on the mercurial Uruguayan striker and the need to find alternatives when he isn’t there.
Liverpool’s results are perhaps slightly ahead of performance levels at present, and they need to look to control games better and perhaps show a little more of tactical sophistication. The next three weeks will put Liverpool in their real place, whatever that might be.
Next time we’ll be heading south to cast a gaze over Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham to see how things are shaping up for the managers in the capital.