Football FanCast columnist Richard Marsh doesn’t believe that Manchester City have much to fear this season.
The events of the past week or so in the Premiership may have got some people wondering. Do Manchester City, with all their money and current crop of superstars have a genuine chance to, not just finish in the top four, but to win the league?
A couple of weeks ago it would have been nothing but pub talk, but after Chelsea’s horror show at Wigan, Manchester United’s home struggle to Sunderland, and Liverpool’s zonal marking issue, can City take advantage of their shortcomings?
At the start of the season, Chelsea were favourites, they hadn’t lost a Ronaldo or Alonso and had quality and experience throughout, but they were totally outplayed by Wigan, maybe they got complacent, or maybe Wigan showed enough pace and energy to simply run around the blues. The core of the London side is fast approaching 30, and they have one of the highest average ages for a premier league squad.
Can they still maintain the strength, the energy, the pace, the movement and the mindset to last a whole season? Certainly the likes of Terry and Lampard can, and will, but Ballack, Deco, Drogba are well into their 30’s and between them have won everything this planet has to offer, so what else are they playing for?
The Fifa imposed transfer ban may help them focus on the squad in the short term, but it will hurt them later down the road, they cannot bring in new players to integrate with the club and to prepare for the seismic change that will happen in the next 3 years or so, when Chelsea will need an overhaul of first team players.
Wigan may have been a sign of things to come.
Liverpool, they are really struggling, Benitez insists they can still win the title, and maybe they can, but a lot rests on the shoulders of Alberto Aquilani, Xabi Alonso’s replacement who has yet to feature for the side due to injury.
They have lost 3 league games this season, more than they did in the entire previous campaign, and in simple terms, the reason is this, Alonso was the man who allowed Gerrard to run free and find space and time to attack and/ or set up Torres. When effective, this system was devastingly good. But it only worked with the skill and guile of Alonso. Mascherano does not play this role, he sweeps up in front of the defence, and Lucas just is not in Alonso’s class. Selling the Spaniard is fair enough, if a replacement was available. Is Aquilani going to prove good enough? Will he stay fit for long enough? Will Liverpool be too far behind the leaders for him to make a difference anyway?
Liverpool’s other question mark is their back four, the zonal system employed was horribly exposed by Aston Villa at Anfield, and is not working against the stronger sides in the league. Jamie Carragher has also suffered a dip in form, and at 31, is nearing the end of his career. Things would not be too bad, but for Skrtel and Agger’s respective injury problems.
Liverpool have played three top sides this season, Tottenham, Aston Villa and Chelsea, and have been outplayed by all of them. Either Benitez knows something we don’t, or he’s bluffing when he says they are still in the title hunt.
Reigning champions Manchester United are a team on the rebound, Sir Alex won’t like to hear it, but even he knows the previous two seasons have been won by a guy named Ronaldo. With the Portuguese star gone, all attention has turned to Wayne Rooney, and nobody will question his desire, but having your talisman as a striker (Rooney), is going to mean he is not as involved in the game as a midfielder (Ronaldo). Opposition teams are more confident at defending against United now, knowing that Rooney is just one man, and as a striker, his options are more limited compared to Ronaldo, who could play left wing, right wing, deep role striker or even lone striker. Team’s struggled to cope, but now they have renewed optimism.
Sunderland went 4-4-2 and chased the game, it was superb to finally see an away side go and chase the game, win or bust. Does a draw really help anyone anyway? Does it keep you up? Rarely. Does it win you the title? No.
Sunderland went for it and probably deserved to take home three points, United had no alternative ideas, no Ronaldo to produce something unthinkable, and no Giggs to unlock the back four. The Welshman was rested and with hindsight, perhaps that was a mistake by Sir Alex.
This could become a common trend, they struggled against Stoke, only Giggs secured them the win, and at home to Wolfsburg in the Champions League they again looked short of ideas. The loss of Tevez too, is noticeable, When Rooney and Owen started against the German champions, they was a lack of hustling, a lack of chasing the game. Tevez is un-rivalled at getting defenders to make mistakes, goalkeepers are also vulnerable as he brilliantly showed in the Manchester derby.
The reds will have money to spend in January, but it all depends on who, and if they use it. Can they bring in players who will match Ronaldo and Tevez? It’s hard to see it happening, but Sir Alex’s results speak for themselves, he can make it happen.
The bottom line though, is that Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United are not the teams they were, and they haven’t changed for the better.
As for Arsenal, well, outsiders again, potential winners every season, but with the loss of Toure and Adebayor the squad must play even better. Vermaelen has proved a fantastic signing, strong, competent and with an incredible left foot, he has slotted straight in and left no questions about his capability to replace Toure. As for upfront, they need the recovering Walcott and Rosicky to get back to premiership life fast. They cannot afford to rely too heavily on Van Persie, and will need captain Fabregas to maintain his excellent form.
Arsenal’s problem however, is when the going gets tough, such at Old Trafford when they hit a brick wall, United in the second half had them covered, and Arsenal did not know what to do, and against Man City, they were, to put it simply, out-arsenaled. Man City was slicker, more clinical and just as solid in defence.
The London side will demolish the likes of Blackburn and co, but when up against a strong, well organised squad, they lack the steel; they lack a Patrick Vieira to dominate and drag a win from the jaws of defeat. Playing your way out of trouble does not always work.
And so to Manchester City, if they can beat Arsenal at their own game, and almost Beat United, why can’t they go on and win it, with all the big four having problems one way or another, now is a good a chance as any. With a big squad and quality throughout, City really have the chance to shine. An incredible list of attacking potential is unmatched by their rivals. Even against a top quality side like Aston Villa, under Martin O’Neill, at Villa Park city were comfortable and could well have had three points.
Fourth in the table with a game in hand, many said this season would come too soon for Mark Hughes’ men, but in light of recent weeks, that view may have to be changed.