When Manchester United were dominant, it was Manchester City’s rush and clamour to show off their wealth and, presumably, their penchant for late night parties playing that new-fangled ‘rock’ music until all hours of the morning that led Sir Alex Ferguson to nickname the club across the Carrington divide the ‘noisy neighbours’.
Although City have moved out, these days, United are spending just as heavily as their city-neighbours, but the blue side’s brash start – they’ve managed some barnstorming wins and managed to turn the pundits right around on their title challenge and have become favourites by now – means that it’s the blue side of Manchester who are still making all the noise.
But everyone has their own style. City’s racket has brought them to the top of the table, but United have been sneaky. They’ve done it under the radar.
That sounds odd. After all, Louis Van Gaal has spent a quarter of a billion pounds since taking over as manager, including a potential €80m on a teenager – albeit one who’s already amongst the goals. But United’s start to the season – just like the majority of last season – hasn’t convinced anyone. They’ve plodded along and burst into life at times, but for the most part they’ve been pedestrian, keeping possession well, but managing little else. They’ve also looked vulnerable to counter attacks.
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Yet they sit second, just two points behind their neighbours. City have had a great start apart from their only league blip last weekend at home to West Ham, but Manchester United have kept the pace. Ominously so, given that they don’t seem to have hit top gear just yet. City have well and truly been in top gear, and have only managed two extra points.
It’s early days, and both United and City will have to continue to win if they’re to be at the top come May as Chelsea and Arsenal will find better form and shoot up the table again, too. But for the moment, it’s the noisy neighbours on top, but the sneaky neighbours just below.
United are like the neighbours who outdo you without ever making a fuss about it. The ones who save up and buy that new car, who build that new extension around the back of your house that you only notice when they tell you. Whilst you’ve been off on some wonderful holiday and you come back to brag about it, they quietly tell you that they’ve just been on an even better holiday.
That’s not to overly praise United and Louis Van Gaal. They’ve spent very big, but they have yet to play particularly well for a prolonged period of time. But that looks like an ominous sign to me. Because, with the team they have and because of how they are starting to win games, they look like they really will hit a vein of form at some point, one where they play well as well as win. And if they do that then they will look like title contenders.
At the start of the season, you have to keep the pace as much as possible. Most top teams seem to finish the season better than they start it. Partly they’re fitter than the teams at the bottom. Partly because they haven’t had to chase the ball around the pitch for an entire season spent with no possession. But it’s also partly because that’s when the big players come to the fore. When they realise that it’s crunch time. Chelsea’s win last week was crucial.
They could have been too far behind City already to mount a serious title challenge, but you get the feeling that they can claw back eight points between now and May, but 14 could have been too much. But United, having not played well, are still in touch. As ominous as City’s form has seemed, this is perhaps an even bigger claim for the title.
But it will only be a claim for the title if they can build on their success so far. It will only be a claim if they actually look like Champions at some point over the next few months. It’s still early days, but this season could be all about neighbourly rivalry – Manuel Pellegrini will have to do his best to keep up with the Van Gaals.