How Much Of A Resurgence Really Is This?

A chance to see how far United have come recently and Liverpool have come this season, whilst Arsenal need to stave off any talk of a battle for the top four...

Last Updated: 14/03/14 at 10:10 Post Comment

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David Moyes

Without wanting to p*ss on the chips of fans that already have a pretty wee-smelling fish supper, the manner of celebrations following victories over Crystal Palace and West Brom demonstrate just how far United have fallen in the last ten months. A Manchester United manager should never want to be judged on his performances against the likes of WBA or Palace (nor too Olympiakos, Fulham and Sunderland, as it happens).

Instead, Moyes should pride himself on his performances against the biggest and the best in the league, and on that basis he is still falling woefully short. United have taken just ten points from their 12 matches against top-half opposition this season, putting them 11th in the league on points per game. That is an absolute abomination, taking 0.83ppg as oppose to 1.77ppg last season, the highest in the league.

United and Moyes don't need reminding that Liverpool are very much one of those top teams. Nor too does Wayne Rooney, who this week bemoaned the success of others in relation to United. "To see City doing well, and particularly Liverpool, is really difficult. It's not nice when we know we are capable of being up there challenging and we haven't been doing that this season."

Sunday provides United with the chance to demonstrate just how much consecutive expected victories matter when the tougher assignments arrive. Win and the talk of resurgence will grow louder, lose (or even draw) and the mood will yet again have been dampened ahead of Olympiakos next midweek.


Arsenal

The common consensus appears to be that Arsenal's title bid is over, and that may well be the case. With a tough run-in to come, however, there are vultures circling to suggest that the battle for the top four may yet not be.

Should Spurs, Manchester United and Everton all win at home this weekend, not an unthinkable treble, they would be three, eight and eight points behind Arsenal respectively, with the likelihood that only one would need to overtake Arsene Wenger's side to leave them without a top-four finish for the first time in 18 years. With Chelsea (a), Manchester City (h) and Everton (a) to come in the four matches following the north London derby, such a lead could quickly diminish.

Of course, such concerns would soon vanish with victory at White Hart Lane, and following Tim 'rent-a-rant' Sherwood's outbursts of the last seven days and a Thursday night humbling for the home side against Benfica, one can't envisage a better time to face Spurs.

I can't think of many more intriguing north London derbies either.

Manuel Pellegrini
It is far too premature to declare that Manuel Pellegrini's job is in danger. This is a man given the task of leading City out of the Roberto Mancini era, with a much-publicised remit of five trophies in five years. And, technically, he is up with the pace in achieving that.

However, it was just the League Cup. Under Pellegrini this season, City have gone one stage further in the Champions League, been knocked out two rounds earlier in the FA Cup and are, according to the bookmakers at least, favourites to finish in exactly the same position as last season in the league. It isn't the improvement many would have envisaged, nor too matching the presumed ambitions of the owners.

Of course there are caveats. City's improvement in the Champions League group stage was marked, and they will have put up a better fight in the Premier League than last season whatever their results from now on in. Some of their attacking displays have been wonderful to watch, and there is a real sign that Fernandinho is the bite missing in midfield.

It's just that it all suddenly has an anti-climactic feel. A month ago they still had genuine hopes of a quadruple, but now the Premier League remains the only front on which to fight. Anything less than three points at the KC Stadium on Saturday lunchtime and a season may suddenly feel as good as over by mid-March.


Manchester City strikers

In their last three Premier League matches, Manchester City have scored just one goal against Stoke, Norwich and Chelsea. Dig a little deeper, and things get even more concerning for Pellegrini and City. They've actually taken a whopping 58 shots in those three matches, but have managed to get just 12 on target. A rate of four in every five missing the goal isn't exactly title-winning stuff, especially when your defence has, at times, looked as reliable as my grandfather in early December with the Christmas wine delivery.

With Sergio Aguero again hobbling off in the Camp Nou on Wednesday (are his hamstrings the new Jack Wilshere's ankles?), City may again be forced to rely on Edin Dzeko alongside Alvaro Negredo. As the stats show, that really isn't ideal right now.

Whilst Negredo has been excellent at times this season, the Spaniard has not scored in eight matches since the Capital One Cup win over West Ham, and whilst a few of those have been substitute appearances, it still represents almost 400 minutes without a goal. Of more concern to Pellegrini may be the fact that Negredo has had just two shots on target in that entire time. Whether it be a question of service, confidence or the regular lack of Aguero as a partner, Negredo's slump in form could not have come at a worse time.

And then there's Dzeko. Oh Edin. If you think Negredo is struggling for form, there's a Bosnian at the Etihad about to trump it. Last scoring against Spurs nearly two months ago, in his last nine matches Dzeko has taken 33 shots, and 28 of them have been off target. No-one dreams of a 15% shot accuracy.

Hull have only conceded 14 goals in as many home games this season, but City's forwards must improve if they are to provide the goals on which the club's title bid largely depends.


Tim Sherwood

It's all very well calling out your players, referring to them as gutless and warning them that they are playing for their futures, but that rather ignores the fact that Tim Sherwood is managing for his own. 4-0 defeats to rivals may well reflect badly on underperforming or overpaid stars, but they don't shine too brightly on the man in front of the dug-out either, particularly when that man is wearing a gilet from the club shop and making gestures with his hand that seem largely meaningless.

Sherwood may well be a 'call it as I see it' type of manager, unafraid to lambast the players and question an owner's 'deafening silence', but such epithets are unlikely to work as anything but a short-term measure, and are usually only utilised by those more secure in their job or of far greater experience. If, as is surely likely, Sherwood leaves Spurs this summer, he will presumably be searching for alternative employment. His numerous public negative statements are unlikely to leave him as an attractive proposition - Paulo di Canio is enough evidence of that.

"I'm a manager, not a babysitter," was Sherwood's latest bullish vocal display.Unfortunately, pride often comes before a rather painful fall in football, and there aren't much more painful falls as a Spurs manager than losing your second London derby in two weeks, and both of your first two matches against Arsenal.

That said, us football fans are a fickle old bunch. Should Spurs overpower Arsenal in midfield on Sunday, with Bentaleb in particular impressing, all will again seem rosy down The Lane. Maybe try and play a winger on the wing rather than a full-back or central midfielder, eh?


Liverpool

Now we'll see just how serious this title bid really is. Anything but a victory at Old Trafford will feel like the wind being taken out of sails, and that is the perfect measure for just how far Brendan Rodgers has taken Liverpool this season.

After defeat at the home of their bitterest rivals last season, Liverpool were 14 points behind United. Fourteen months later, and they travel there 11 points ahead. Win on Sunday and there will be some serious perch-climbing going on in the away end of Old Trafford.


Norwich

Two 1-0 wins in their last 13 league matches, and six other points besides. Norwich might survive but there will be nothing glorious or even interesting about it.

They'll lose to Southampton on Saturday, Chris Hughton will suddenly be one game from the sack and then they'll beat Sunderland at home to keep one nostril above the water to allow them to breathe. Then they'll lose again.


Pepe Mel

No wins, four draws and four defeats from eight matches in charge, and only once scoring more than one goal in a game. There has been no new manager lift, no seeming improvement in results or performance and no sense whatsoever that the Spaniard appears to be the right man to steer West Brom away from danger.

It really does look very grim for Mel indeed. Talks of grumbling within the camp may have been given the 'shush shush, there's nothing to see here' by the West Brom camp, but it is clear that certain players are not entirely comfortable with the way the club are limping their way towards relegation, especially after Steve Clarke was sacked over concerns he might do just that.

If West Brom lose again on Saturday at the Liberty Stadium, it would seem probable that West Brom chairman Jeremy Peace may roll the dice again in the desperate hope for survival.


Fulham

The fat lady isn't singing just yet, but if you get to the Johnny Haynes nice and early on Saturday, you'll be able to hear her going through her scales in the home dressing room. Lose to Newcastle on Saturday, and Shahid Khan might as well appoint her as First Team Technical Director, given the lunacy of Fulham's appointments this season.

Daniel Storey - follow him on Twitter

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ven if United were to sign CR7 & Messi to play upfront, the fact remains Fletcher and Cleverly are playing in midfield. That's where the problem is. Fletcher is too slow with an awful pass, while Cleverly is simply rubbish

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