More steel is needed in midfield
Manchester United 1, Manchester City 6.
Hardly a scoreline worth thinking about, is it? Well unfortunately for the fans in the red half of Manchester, and to the elation of those in the blue half, it happened.
From the perspective of the red half this was a day that Alex Ferguson would never have anticipated, certainly not during his time in charge.
For many keen observers of the Premier League this is something that has been coming. Since the summer of 2008, Sheik Mansour has poured his oil-fuelled billions into the club with the aim of making them the best side in Europe.
Without doubt you have to admit that Manchester City have now put themselves in a position to contend for the major trophies. We knew this before yesterday’s result, but the result itself seemed only to confirm it.
So what of United? Where do they go from here? Based on the post-match reactions from a wide range of media sources, the obituaries are already being written about the demise of Manchester United, the changing of the guard, no longer favourites for the title etc. You get the idea.
The funny thing is that many of the people writing about our demise were the same ones who were commenting about our attacking vibrant brand of football in the wake of United's 8-2 thrashing of Arsenal.
The various articles about Manchester United’s demise are very much premature in my opinion, although under the same breath some of the underlying issues which were exposed horribly in the defeat against Manchester City have to be addressed. Especially after what Alex Ferguson described as the worst in Manchester United's illustrious history.
The only criticism of Manchester United is that on occasion, they cross that fine line of confidence and complacency. This is something that nearly cost the reds three points against Basle and most definitely against Man City. It is all good having a sense of invincibility psychologically, but that should not translate into serial lapses of concentration.
Firstly Manchester United need to sort things out defensively. 12 goals so far in the league conceded, not to mention the three against Basle, is simply not championship quality. The Red's defence is the worst in the current league Top 4 (yes, even Newcastle have conceded less goals then we have).
Granted, some of Manchester United's defensive woes have not been preventable. When you lose three out of your four first-choice back four in the first game of the season (Vidic, Ferdinand and Rafael) it is a little too much to expect defensive solidity.
On the positives Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have both shown the flexibility and footballing intelligence to indicate they will be vital components in the side for many years to come. With the brick wall known as Nemanja Vidic returning to full fitness things can only get better.
Unfortunately, within the squad two players in particular are proving that their days are numbered as Manchester United defenders.
The first player is Rio Ferdinand. This pains me, not only as a Manchester United fan, but as an England fan. One of the finest ball-playing defenders of his generation is clearly no longer at his best, and the injuries have certainly not been helpful; but the reality is that he has lost that vital yard of pace—something which I personally think has been in evidence for a couple of years.
That in itself is not entirely detrimental. Players such as John Terry and Carlos Puyol have never been pacey, but there reading of the game has remained exemplary. Ferdinand has always been a fantastic reader of the game, but his timing and positioning in recent games has been questionable. While I think he has a few more good games left in him, he surely has to leave at the end of the season, as United cannot carry a player who makes mistakes.
The second player is Jonny Evans. For me he is a player who, despite his potential, has always had a mistake in him. Against Manchester City he had a shocker, and the red card was just simply the climax of such an insipid performance.
Credit must go to Alex Ferguson for sticking with him despite the criticism levelled at him last season. Unfortunately this season, despite the early promise that Evans showed, he demonstrated again that against top class opposition he is simply an accident waiting to happen.
I would never place him in the Titus Bramble category of clumsiness, although I simply don't think he is good enough to play for Manchester United in light of the club's ambitions.
So despite recent additions in the last year or so of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, another defender would not go amiss.
Midfield is another area in which United was dominated yesterday, with possession of 55 percent on the side of Manchester City, any higher than that would be Barcelona territory. It shows that we lack that presence in the centre of midfield. People who have read my articles before will know I have already touched upon this issue. So I won’t go too much into it. Manchester City won the game partly due to the brilliance of Silva and tenacity of Yaya Toure. Both are a good mix of player to have in the centre.
You could argue that United as yet do not possess either a world class creator or ball winner. We have Cleverly who has the potential and a fully fit Fletcher who is vital to the team. United I feel need someone in the mould of Daniele de Rossi or Riccardo Montolivo. Both are good play makers (especially the latter) and can win the ball. Both are out of contract at the end of the season, and both are players you could put in the world class bracket.
Overall we should remember that one game does not win the title, not in October anyway. I'm certainly not falling into the trap of writing Manchester United off. I still feel we have the quality and most importantly the determination and experience to walk away with the Premiership Trophy in the Red half of Manchester.