Southampton top the list but perhaps it's Aston Villa who should get most credit. Their defence is the reason why they are sitting comfortably in mid-table...
Garrulous, uncompromising, always fighting his corner, but not without charm if the mood takes him. Sam Allardyce is the Premier League's classic Proper Football Man...
This is a result that upset many of the spectators. It came after a summer of hard work, of rigorous planning, of impressive executive co-operation feeding into a squad with depth and quality, and ultimately it led to a genuine let down, despite reasons for optimism in the long term. But enough about The Ashes' denouement. Manchester City looked incredibly silly in their defeat to Cardiff Roaring Dragons.
Manchester City spent the best part of their summer acting and saying things precisely in the manner nobody had come to expect after the episodes of David Platt and his teste-head, Roberto Mancini with his scarf and haircut, Garry Cook and his hacked e-mail account, and Brian Marwood and his voice perfectly suited to his intellect. They had kept their counsel. Where once there were big adverts of Carlos Tevez, an almost-human bound to betray them, who ended up humiliating and betraying them, there was silence. Where there had been accusations that Kaka, at the time one of the greatest players in the world, lacked the required mettle to join them, there was sensible acquisition of talent across the squad.
David Silva and Samir Nasri offered intermittent class and frustration, to varying degrees, and so Jesus Navas was bought from Sevilla to offer a direct and quick threat, as well as lovely, lovely blue eyes. Gareth Barry, ponderous, and James Milner, Brutalist, have seen their places threatened by Fernandinho. Tevez and Mario Balotelli, sold because he kept mocking Mancini's hair, and rules, meant that there was a lack of quality in attack: this was addressed by buying Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo. The plan of action addressed weaknesses in attack and midfield, and strengthened the squad in general at the same time. It was efficient. It was professional. It was a summer in stark contrast to Manchester United, now the noisy neighbours, with that Ewar Woowar throwing parties at all hours, boasting about his bank account and never quite getting round to buying anything.
Now we think about it, did he ever make it back from Sydney? Is he marooned on an island in the Pacific somewhere, writing OKAY WE'LL GO UP TO £45M FOR CESC in rocks on the sand? Should United send out a search party quietly abandon him there and pretend the whole sorry summer never happened?
Anyway. City hadn't mouthed off, they'd got on with their job, and they deserved their praise. It was right to praise City. They'd got rid of Kolo Toure, a joke in anthropomorphic form, and are looking to get rid of Barry, footballing valium. Their signings were utterly sensible, and of genuine Premier League and Champions League quality, without necessarily being that exciting. But! However the season goes for City - and they could well win an already disappointing league - hindsight has made the defeat to Cardiff Angry Velociraptors very predictable indeed. There is no need to say that City are now complete rubbish, as they clearly aren't, but it has highlighted a blindspot in the summer's strategy. A blindspot that seems to take about roughly half the pitch.
They have Joe Hart! When advertising people put footballers in adverts, they are hoping that the talent and professionalism they display on the pitch will rub off on their product. Hart, by contrast, has started playing like a shampoo salesman. As his self-confidence seems to rise, so his self-competence falls. Last season, Mancini was visibly irritated by his errors, and this season, opposition fans have already had chance to be visibly entertained by them. His latest, flapping at a cross he should have probably decided to catch instead, gave Fraizer (not Frazier or Frasier or Fraser or Frazer or Frazzle or Fraggle) Campbell the opportunity to win the game. It's a shame, then, given this obvious defect, they only have the curiously elongated Costel Pantimilion to pressure him back to form, at a time when seasoned and sensible Mark Schwarzer was ready to leave Fulham. Whoops.
They have Joleon Lescott and Gael Clichy! Yes, Vincent Kompany and child prodigy Matija Nastasic were injured, but City's defence is the poorest of the title challengers. United have about forty centre backs of quality, and three outstanding ones, and Chelsea have John Terry, who when not abusing black players can often be an excellent defender, David Luiz, funny but good, and Gary Cahill, neither funny nor terrible. None of those players, it can accurately be said, are Joleon Lescott, and that's a good thing. All summer they have had the chance to address his presence, or mitigate it with another player, and all summer they didn't. At left back, Gael Clichy is fighting with...er...Aleksandar Kolarov for a space. What a fight that is. So when City dominate possession, and create a number of chances, but concede three goals with a mixture of haplessness and destiny, they might want to have a think about the next week and their bank balance.
The problems with Hart, Clichy, Lescott, Kompany - unable to match his highest standards for most of last season - Kolarov and Micah Richards are well established. Maybe the owners and executives thought the problem was with Mancini, but the evidence is that at least three of those failing in defence are bawbags to some degree. Even Pablo Zabaleta is overrated, appreciated because he's the best right-back at the club and does a bit of shouting, rather than the best right-back in the league. If they had £100million to spend on the squad, to have not improved the defence even slightly, looks negligent. And, let's be honest, are negligence, foolishness and incompetence really the adjectives you associate with Manchester City?
Andi Thomas and Alexander Netherton