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Manchester United

Title rivals go head-to-head

Robin-van-Persie-Manchester-United-Manchester_2872334Four games in, and United and City are level at 7 points. Predictions for City this season are sky high with conventional wisdom that Pellegrini will be able to steady the club, and increased spending expected to turn into points.

This is a team many expect to win the title or come very close. City have had a fairly soft start when compared to United, and have looked unconvincing without Kompany. An embarrassing loss to Cardiff and a nervy draw against Stoke show a City side with serious flaws.

Despite fear of a disastrous start of Moyes’ United tenure with such a difficult schedule to begin, United are only 3 points back of the top spot and level with City. Despite a disappointing loss to Liverpool, and a cagey draw against Chelsea, a big win over Swansea, and a very comfortable win over Chrystal Palace have United looking solid if not spectacular.

The addition of Fellaini adds a completely new dimension to the team and unlocks so much potential in this side. His defensive abilities are widely talked about and his aerial abilities as well, but his intelligent penetrating passes through the center were a dimension sorely lacking before and add a major new source of attack against opposing sides. Given the first 4 games advantage goes to United.

Both teams come off European games, with United winning 4-2 against Bayer Leverkusen, and City winning 3-0 over Viktoria Plzen. United managed a commanding victory over a German squad only 1 point inferior to Borussia Dortmund last season in the Bundesliga.

Bayer are a talented team, and in the Premier League would be a contender for a top spot. Fellaini was fantastic in midfield contributing enormously in defense. Many times you could see him drift right where the pressure was headed and force the ball in a different position, not to mention his defensive headers. Most impressive was his steady supply of penetrating forward passes, slotting passes comfortably between defenders to pick out advanced players and put pressure on. This is in stark contrast to Cleverley who has struggled with that type of vision or forward impetus.

It’s simple, it’s not flashy, but having a midfielder capable of moving the ball up the center of the pitch without sending the ball out wide or resorting to backpasses makes a world of difference in the tempo of the game.

Swansea City v Manchester United - Premier LeagueCity on the other hand played a much smaller club in Viktoria Plzen. This was a disappointing, boring, tedious game to watch. A game in which Viktoria came out looking to draw blood. This should have been the makings of an interesting David and Goliath contest. Unfortunately, Viktoria were hopelessly inept in the final third. Despite the ball being whipped repeatedly into the City box, there was virtually no real threat. It’s hard to imagine a team sending so much pressure towards an opposing goal with so little cutting edge. As astounding as that was, it was even topped by the discomfort of City at the back. I cannot credit City with a fine defensive display. A formula quickly developed where Viktoria ran at City’s goal like a dog chasing a stick, whipped the ball in towards a player incredibly open, and missed them entirely, or connected, and somehow had the player fail to make any meaningful attack. Watching Van Persie turn crosses vaguely in his vicinity into goals, I can safely say that had Viktoria Plzen had Van Persie at the head of that attack Viktoria would have won 12-0, Kompany would have spontaneously combusted, and Joe Hart would have retired to a quiet country existence on an apple butter farm.

Biggest players to watch for me are Fellaini and Kompany.

United need something different in the center of the park, and at Bayer Fellaini looked the part. He was patient on the ball, his vision in passing was good, his defending was excellent. This is the ideal game for him to step up and prove that he is United quality, to lift this team. Rooney, or very likely Van Persie will get the main credit for scoring, but if Fellaini can keep the United center composed in games of this size as he did against Bayer, the potential achievements of this team increase dramatically. Is Kompany back to full health? The defensive performance against Plzen was far from convincing and there was the feeling that with a slightly better performance, and with slightly better finishing(both of which were dire), City could have been embarrassed.

United are a whole different beast from Plzen. If Kompany is a little hesitant, a little tired, this is a City defense struggling, and a team of United’s quality will not go goalless if they stumble.

I see United playing largely the same side, possibly with Welbeck or Zaha playing in place of Kagawa. This side looks very dangerous in front of goal, and with Fellaini in the center of the pitch they look calm and composed, holding the ball and distributing well. Smalling was excellent in defense. Having Fellaini, Smalling, and Ferdinand in against set pieces is a calming thought. It’s a battle between two new managers, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see shades of United v. Chelsea with neither wanting to lose. What separates these two sides is confidence. On the strength of their wins over Chrystal Palace and Bayer, and the addition of Fellaini, I figure United to overpower City’s defense and break down a cautious side. With plenty of firepower City are likely to score, but I don’t see City controlling this game. This is a new United midfield with an entirely new feel, playing like they’ve been together for years, and I don’t see the consistency in City’s midfield to overcome Fellaini’s influence, United’s strong back four, and United’s massive attacking abilities.

Prediction 2-1 United win.