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The business end of the season exposes United’s soft underbelly once more

Manchester-United-v-Manchester-CitySo, here we are again. Another Monday night derby presenting United with the chance to hammer the final nail in City’s coffin, only for them to relinquish the opportunity, and having their limits prominently exposed.

United’s impressive gap at the top had led many to wonder whether the 2012-13 team was indeed one of Fergie’s finest or whether this Premier League season was characterised by a severe lack of quality, with Monday night’s encounter considered to be the perfect chance to lay down a statement of intent.

Only there was no statement, rather the reiteration of what had emerged over the last couple of games, as United fell victims of the same old mistakes. Last year Sir Alex Ferguson’s negative tactics had handed City the initiative in the crucial showdown at the Etihad, on Monday his approach was bolder with four attacking players on the pitch, but the result was the same and, arguably, it had been coming.

United have steamrolled their way through the Premier League this season, becoming the first team to win 25 of their 30 opening games but, since the second leg against Real Madrid, they have jogged rather than run, their path suddenly rockier under their feet.

United have, quite simply, gone out of form at the worst possible moment. And while they remain more than good enough to graft out results against the likes of Sunderland, their limits are there to be exploited – something Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester City have done profitably.

Many have pointed at Robin Van Persie’s lack of form in front of goal as the reason behind United’s stuttering form in recent weeks, but to dismiss them as a one-man team is foolish and speculative, for the Dutchman hasn’t lost his form, rather he’s been starved of deliveries.

Nani, Valencia and Ashley Young have all underperformed this season and it was telling that Sir Alex decide to deploy only one of them against City – the game needed width, but Fergie didn’t seem willing to trust any of the aforementioned trio apart from the average Ashley Young.

With Van Persie’s deprived of ammunition and wingers as mono-dimensional as a light bulb, the onus on producing falls inevitably on United’s weak link – the midfield.

The decision to start Ryan Giggs alongside Michael Carrick on Monday was puzzling and a tad suicidal, but it was simply forced upon by the circumstances given Tom Cleverley’s rather unimpressive form in recent weeks and highlighted, yet again, how badly United crave reinforcements in their engine room.

Less than a month after entertaining dreams of another Treble (numbers might not lie but this side will never be in the same bracket of the 1999 vintage) United find themselves with a still relatively comfortable lead, but must address their limits and shortcomings, otherwise winning the title will merely be a case of papering over the cracks.

Dan (@MUFC_dan87)