Manchester City have sunk from title winners into a squad fighting just to hold onto fourth place in recent months. The Citizens started their campaign strongly, pushing league leaders Chelsea every step of the way, but with key players now underperforming City have quickly seen their fortunes take a turn for the worse.
Manchester United, though, have seen a drastic improvement in all areas of their game, particularly when going forward.
United have won six or their last seven matches and have only lost six times all season. It took longer than expected fort manager Louis van Gaal to turn the squad into top four contenders but, true to his word, the Dutchman has done just that. And now there are only a handful of games between them and Champions League football.
Van Gaal’s men have been steadily picking up points all season but that has at times been down to the heroics of goal keeper David De Gea. When United were shaky at the back or not prolific enough up front, the Spaniard ensured that his team went away from the match with at least a point.
But in the last couple of weeks the Red Devils have organised their back line to be capable of dealing with even the most dangerous of forwards, cutting them off before they can do any real damage.
Then there is the attacking midfield trio of Ashley Young, Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata, which has been United’s most successful grouping. Even expensive new signing Angel di Maria has had a tough time breaking back into the hugely confident squad. Together with Wayne Rooney excelling up front, United have become one of the best teams when going forward.
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Keeping their best XI injury free and performing as a cohesive unit has shot United up the table and once again clubs are beginning to fear playing them, something unknown since the glory days of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Where Van Gaal knows his best squad, City’s Pellegrini now appears unsure. Key players who were vital for them last season could now be on their way out of the Etihad this summer. The powerful Ivorian Yaya Toure has been linked with a move to Inter Milan, as has Steven Jovetic, and Samir Nasri is reportedly on Juventus’ radar.
All three have underperformed, so perhaps they wouldn’t be greatly missed. But the worry is that lack of Champions League football next year may tempt their better players like Sergio Aguero and James Milner to go elsewhere.
The situation has declined so rapidly that even Pellegrini, just 12 months after leading City to their second Premier League title, may not have his job for much longer. Several replacements have been mentioned, such as Napoli’s Rafa Benitez and Borussia Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp who has recently announced that he will indeed be leaving theBundesliga outfit in the summer.
City may look very different with a batch of new players and a new man in charge next season. United, on the other hand, look likely to stick with Van Gaal and are only in the market for a few key additions to help boost their return to the top four.
If City fail to handle the next few months correctly they may find themselves unable to compete successfully next season, and therefore potentially forfeiting their top four position.
They are a club in transition in a league that takes no prisoners. United went through it last year when they changed managers and ended up in seventh, but after a few good decisions and patience from supporters, the club are back to where they belong climbing the table and turning Manchester red once again.