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City must follow United & RvP's example

TEAMtalk hails Robin van Persie as one of Sir Alex Ferguson's most-influential signings and believes Man City may have to follow United's lead.

Last Updated: 11/01/13 at 15:26 Post Comment

Robin van Persie: The difference between United and City

Robin van Persie: The difference between United and City

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It is uncanny how, season after season, Sir Alex Ferguson strips football down to its bare essentials.

In the summer, despite a wealth of vibrant young strikers at Manchester United, the Red Devils boss identified Robin van Persie as the ingredient necessary to deliver another Premier League trophy.

On Sunday, Ferguson would take a significant step closer to his 13th title if United could beat Liverpool at Old Trafford, their greatest foes historically, and Van Persie's old club Arsenal did them a favour by beating Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium.

That would stretch United's lead in the title race to 10 points and few would bet against them faltering from such a position.

In a league which was supposed to be ever more competitive, United's dominance is made even more impressive by the fact that you have to travel down the table to 12th-placed Norwich before you find a team who have conceded more goals.

United have shipped 28 goals, a worse defensive record than Swansea, Stoke and West Ham and a statistic which flies in the face of the old adage that success starts with a tight back four. Not for United. For Ferguson attacking intent, first and foremost, is essential to winning trophies.

It is why United are the top scorers in English football, having scored 54 Premier League goals this season, the highest total United have amassed at this stage in the top flight for more than a century.

That says so much about the trust and confidence Ferguson has instilled in his current side.

Van Persie has scored 16 of those goals and is rapidly climbing the ladder of Ferguson's most influential purchases, at the top of which sit Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.

On Sunday, van Persie inevitably will be compared with Liverpool's Luis Suarez, who has 15 league goals this season and is currently the Dutchman's main rival for Player of the Year.

Suarez, as brilliant as he is controversial, has a legitimate claim considering he has scored almost half of Liverpool's 34 goals and is the main reason Brendan Rodgers' side are not in a more worrying position than eighth in the table.

Doesn't that say it all about the different directions United and Liverpool have travelled?

This used to be English football's defining fixture, a match dripping with history and angst which often decided the destination of leagues and cups in Liverpool's favour. The passion remains amid the fans but Liverpool are no longer serious contenders. Not this season. Not for a decade if the truth be told. It is why it is difficult to see anything other than another victory for United, who have taken 40 points from a possible 45.

It is what happens at the Emirates, however, which could make this such a pivotal weekend.

City have not been close to their best so far this season, even if they have improved of late with 10 goals in their last three games. Too often they have lacked verve as well as consistency in their play.

Yet the City defence has been solid. In fact, while United have no peers in attack, City have the best defensive record in the Premier League, along with Chelsea, both clubs having conceded just 19 goals.

Much of that solidity is down to captain and centre-back Vincent Kompany, who will provide a stern test for Arsenal's Theo Walcott in his central striking role.

Not that fans, many of whom have already vented their anger at Arsenal's inflated ticket prices, should expect a goal-fest.

The last three matches at the Emirates between the teams have produced just one.

Yet, if United have beaten Liverpool in their early kick-off, then City boss Roberto Mancini would know his team almost certainly would have to win to keep alive their title hopes. He would have to unleash City's full attacking force in the knowledge that even a draw would leave his side nine points behind United, one more than they surmounted in a run which saw them snatch the title in the dying seconds of the final day last season.

The stakes are high. It promises to be the most compelling day of the season so far. The bottom line in football, however, is quality and the smart money says the Manchester clubs, even with City missing Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri, and United, still without the injured Rooney, possess too much talent and firepower for Liverpool and Arsenal.

By Frank Malley

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