The Premiership match of the week was undoubtedly Manchester United vs. Manchester City. Onlookers were left with questions for both sides as they played to a 0-0 draw, wondering whether either of these teams have the quality necessary to prevail as winners of the Barclays English Premier League. At this point, it would appear that dreams of attaining English football glory are still far away.
The match began in rugged style, with each team struggling to make use of their limited possession and to settle into what would be a defensively dominated match. Manchester City, through crafty midfield exchange and excellent spacing, were able to outperform their rivals for the opening 20 minutes.
To no one's surprise, the most lively players throughout this period were David Silva, Carlos Tevez and Yaya Toure. Albeit moments of intelligent play were prevalent, few offensive chances were able to develop.
A limitation with Manchester City's current formation, where Yaya Toure is located directly under the striker, is that a traditionally defensive player now has primarily offensive responsibilities.
Attacking midfield is a position where Toure may be able to thrive eventually, but his prior training has prepared him best for a more holding, defensive role: At Barcelona, Toure would sit yards ahead of the center backs and provide shape to excellent players like Xavi and Iniesta.
Now, however, his effect on the game has dwindled as he attempts to create space forward and release players beyond the back line, an aspect of football which he knows very little.
Toure, in his present location, is half the player he used to be. He lacks the ability to beat defenders one on one and also struggles to play the ball for clear chances on goal. Manchester City may be better suited to relocate his talents elsewhere, if they expect to overcome more challenging squads like Manchester United and Chelsea in the future.
United put forth their best effort as the half came to a close, with their midfield gaining composure and adequate spacing along the side lines towards the 30th minute mark. Solid interchange between Dimitar Berbetov and Nani provided breathing space offensively, even though their opportunities on goal were ultimately fruitless.
United's defensive composure was commendable and allowed them to gain greater control of the match as it moved forward. Rio Ferdinand, once the target of criticism for fitness and lifestyle issues, has reestablished himself as one of the elite defenders in the league.
Complemented by the talents of Nemanja Vidic, Ferdinand was able to quell any pressure that City put forth on their counter attacks and restrict any dangerous opportunities created by Tevez and Co.
Play in the second half was more lively and upbeat, with each team appearing to have settled into the flow of the game after the break. Trepidation on both sides was clearly visible as players's motivation appeared to be negative, i.e. not loosing, rather than positive, i.e. winning. A defensive stalemate ensued that prevented any clear opportunities from developing.
Manchester City deserves high praise for the manner in which they prevented United from opening up the game offensively. At any given moment, eight or nine City players would be behind the ball and effectively limiting United's passing options.
Without the likes of Wayne Rooney, United was left dumbfounded by their opposition's defensive prowess and lacked any serious chances on goal.
It is fair to question whether Berbetov playing as the lone striker was the appropriate decision in this match. With City's game plan more defense oriented, Sir Alex Ferguson may have needed to start a second striker to give his side a better chance for success.
This idea became more relevant as City's outside midfielders began to hold deeper in the midfield throughout the second half. With limited space available in the offensive third, an extra attacker may have been the only remedy.
Silva and Tevez were the most dynamic players in this match. Their movement on and off the ball provided high intensity moments where United players were lagging behind. A questionable choice not to play Emmanuel Adebayor, and placing rather diminutive players against the likes of Vidic and Ferdinand, meant that City were going to struggle in the air.
They were unable to capitalize on any opportunities where the ball was being crossed into the box, a serious limitation for a team that has aspirations to win the Premier League.
Both sides demonstrated their ability to limit the opposition from creating chances on goal. However, neither were able to showcase their talents offensively and break through suffocating defenses. To win the Premiership, a team must be able to succeed in both of these aspects, and so far Chelsea is the only squad with the ability to do so.
The largest responsibility falls upon Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Manchini. Their squads have the talent necessary to achieve glory by season's end, but presently lack the direction from their managers to win close games. Changes need to be made by both sides in terms of player positioning and formations before we can consider either of these two serious contenders for the Premiership title.
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