Manchester United Move to the Top of the EPL, but There Are Still Concerns

Pauly Kwestel@pkwestelWFAN Correspondent IDecember 13, 2010

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 13:   Ji-Sung Park of Manchester United celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on December 13, 2010 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Manchester United moved to the top of the Barclays Premier League table with a 1-0 win over rivals Arsenal Monday night. Park Ji-Sung put the Red Devils ahead with a 40th minute header off of a Nani cross. 

The matched lacked the full amount of fire-power that both teams could have offered, with several big name players being relegated to the bench.

Arsenal had captain Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie and Theo Walcott all brought on in the second half, while United left in-form striker Dimitar Berbatov and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez on the bench, and were without Paul Scholes due to injury. United opted to play with a very out-of-form Wayne Rooney alone up front.

These two rivals have tremendous history between them. It starts with the managers, with Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger being the two longest tenured managers in the Premier League. 

Before 2005 when Jose Mourinho and Chelsea got involved, it was Arsenal and United who battled for the Premier League trophy every season. 

The matches of late have been much tamer compared to the physical blood baths these two teams used to have in the middle of the decade. However, it is now starting to look like in a few years Darren Fletcher and Jack Wilshere could begin to emulate the hatred and physicality these two teams used to show back in the days of Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira. 

The win moved Manchester United two points clear of Arsenal and Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table. United could pick up even more ground this Sunday if they could find a way to win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, a ground where United hasn't won at since the 2001/02 season. 

The top of the table is a very tight bunch, as Chelsea are currently fourth, but sit just three points behind United, though United still has a game in hand over all of their title rivals. 

While United have moved into pole position for the title, there are still many concerns as they move forward. 

United have now defeated two of their biggest rivals at home, Arsenal and Liverpool. They have also defeated Tottenham Hotspur, who are currently fifth, and played to a 0-0 draw at Manchester City. Those are pretty good results, but now they must play away matches against those teams in the second half of the season. 

That seems to only be a glitch on the list of what Manchester United should be concerned about. 

For starters, it must say something when your most in-form striker Dimitar Berbatov doesn't even get to play in what was the biggest game of the season so far. Instead, United opted to go with three central midfielders and only Wayne Rooney up front. 

The move was logical, as having three central midfielders allowed United to control the match. The problem is that over this season Javier Hernandez and Berbatov have proved that they cannot succeed when they are the only strikers up front. Last season, Rooney thrived as the lone striker with a three-man midfield. 

But that was last year, when Rooney was on the best form of his career. When United decided to go with a three man midfield for this match they had no choice but to play Rooney alone up front. But Rooney is currently on the worst form of his life, and it seems to only be getting worse as he egregiously missed a second half penalty against Arsenal. 

While Dimitar Berbatov may look like he's scoring goals left and right this season, he really isn't. Berbatov has scored 11 league goals this season. Take a closer look and you'll see that eight of those 11 came in just two matches against Liverpool and Blackburn. 

What has been the secret behind Berbatov's success? Wayne Rooney. Rooney has been bringing out the best in Berbatov. Berbatov was scoring early in the season, but then Rooney went down with an ankle injury. 

During the six weeks that Rooney was out, Berbatov did not score a single goal. As soon as Rooney came back and the two of them were in the starting XI together, Berbatov scored five in a single game! 

Sir Alex Ferguson now finds himself with a catch-22 selection dilemma for this weeks match with Chelsea. Wayne Rooney is not threatening enough to be deployed as the lone striker. Dimitar Berbatov hasn't been able to do anything this season when not playing alongside Rooney, therefore he can't be a lone striker. 

The simple solution would be to play a 4-4-2, with Rooney and Berbatov up front. With Paul Scholes out injured that would mean either Michael Carrick or Anderson would have to line up alongside Darren Fletcher. When you're playing at Stamford Bridge and half of your central midfield is going to be either Carrick or Anderson, you need a third midfielder out there. 

If United play a 4-4-2 they will face a very tough battle against Chelsea's likely three man midfield. If United play with three central midfielders, it will be very tough to score, as they won't have a striker who could provide a credible threat out of that position. 

If United win this match, they will take a major step towards winning their 12th Premier League title. But I've got a feeling that this title race is far from over. 


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