Magnificent City Top The Winners

There's only one place to start - with a victory that was 'not normal' - while their Manchester rivals once again stuttered in midfield. Does Moyes know how to coach creative?

Last Updated: 25/11/13 at 13:43 Post Comment

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Winners

Manchester City
If Tottenham's attack has performed poorly so far this season, then the contrast with Manchester City's deadly duo provided compelling perspective at the Etihad. The balance sheet suggests that Spurs have built a strong team to replace Gareth Bale's individual brilliance, but on the pitch they are still a long way behind their rivals despite going into Sunday's game two places ahead in the Premier League.

For City, the question remains how they can lose to Sunderland, Aston Villa and Cardiff on the road and then eviscerate Spurs and Manchester United at home with the best two performances we have seen in the top flight this year. That line of investigation dominated Manuel Pellegrini's post-match press conference as puzzled journalists tried to find some explanation, but the manager batted away concerns as he has done all season. "Yes, of course," responded Pellegrini when asked if City must improve their away form to prove themselves as genuine title contenders. "And we are going to do it."

It is impossible not to be convinced. Pellegrini added that it is "not normal" to win 6-0 against an opponent like Spurs, but City are not a normal team, led by their magnificent strike partnership of Sergio Aguero - the third best player in the world, according to his manager - and Alvaro Negredo. The Argentine was simply superb on Sunday, scoring a brace to make it 14 goals in his last 11 appearances for City (and one more than Spurs in the league), while Negredo is the player Andre Villas-Boas must wish he had signed in the summer as the striker demonstrated his wide range of strengths and embarrassed Michael Dawson with a deft turn to fire in the fifth.

'We have scored three, five and seven in our last three home games,' wrote Pellegrini in the matchday programme. 'I'm pretty sure that we will not be able to continue that particular numerical sequence!' His strikers certainly gave it a good go for the first hour and while fellow La Liga emigrant Roberto Soldado again looked isolated in Spurs' attack, the busy Negredo made things happen for City. The Spain international is as strong as an ox and a convincing finisher, but there is also a cuteness to his game extricated by his understanding with Aguero. "He's the perfect player for the Premier League," said Pellegrini. "I think the way the team plays is very comfortable for him."

The way Negredo plays is also very comfortable for the team and he led the line tirelessly in the final 20 minutes following Aguero's substitution. However, it is the all-round play of the group that will be particularly pleasing to Pellegrini, as City continued to exhibit the irresistible variation that sees them remain title favourites despite the six-point gap to Arsenal. With so many options through which to attack, it will always be a wonder how they failed to breach the worst defence in the league at the Stadium of Light.

Negredo and Aguero provide a formidable focal point to City's gameplan, but Jesus Navas' brace and the involvement of Yaya Toure, Fernandinho and the excellent Samir Nasri reaffirms the view that this is a team itching to start an unbeaten run in the league. Navas was the constant out-ball on Sunday, assisting Aguero and creating numerous other chances, and the pass from James Milner which saw the Spaniard grab his second was never not available as the winger hugged the right touchline and waited for his moment to dart inside.

Considering the lopsided nature of City's four-man midfield and the transitional similarities between Toure and Fernandinho, there is a remarkable balance to the team that now needs to click more consistently to end the away day blues. "I am more happy with the way we played as a team, as a balanced team in defence and attack," said Pellegrini when pressed for a sound bite on the scoreline. "The problem is away. I don't think we play so different."

It is easy to understand Pellegrini's unwavering confidence after Sunday's breathtaking performance but, following four defeats so far, City cannot afford many more slip-ups as they seek to rein in Arsenal. Away trips to West Brom and Southampton are fast approaching, and those two fixtures are exactly the sort of difficult tests that will determine City's substance in the title race.


4-4-2
These days many take a sniffy view towards a formation that was once ubiquitous in the Premier League, but Pellegrini's anglicised adaptation of his tactics has helped City to excel. 4-4-2 is back, baby, and perhaps Villas-Boas should take note in his desperate search for more goals at Spurs.


Crystal Palace
A second win of the season that lifts them to the heady heights of 19th and The Pulis Factor is off to a flying start. There is much to be said about Crystal Palace's 31-day wait to appoint a new manager, but the end may justify the means with Pulis expected to help the team make a fight of it at the bottom. The rules of consequentialism dictate that Palace have done just fine out of their delay to replace Ian Holloway and with fixtures against Norwich, West Ham and Cardiff to come, things may look even brighter by their mid-December trip to Chelsea.


Frank Lampard
While Chelsea were excellent as a team to add to West Ham's woes on Saturday, particular praise is due to Lampard, who is still capable of being the Blues' best player at 35. Seven shots, four on target, two goals and four chances created for his teammates, along with a better pass accuracy than four-fifths of Chelsea's midfield at Upton Park. At this stage last season, it seemed almost certain that Lampard would leave in the summer, but his performances so far this year - particularly alongside Ramires (W8 D3 (including Manchester United and Spurs away) L1) - have proven that Roman Abramovich was right to eventually award the midfielder a new contract.


Arsenal
Two much-needed goals for Olivier Giroud following his recent lean spell and another solid defensive display to open the gap at the top to four points with only Man City - in freakish scoring form at home - possessing a better goal difference.

It was a good weekend for Arsenal, but not an excellent one despite these achievements. Arsene Wenger is a manager obsessed with the finer details and his team's recent performances have left him with much to obsess over. The previous fluency has not quite returned following home hiccups against Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea while Mesut Ozil - who missed Germany's friendly with England through injury - has been rather subdued of late.

Arsenal cannot expect to benefit every week from such stupendous stupidity as that displayed by Artur Boruc, and that a Southampton side who have been upgraded from 'plucky' to 'impressive' managed more shots and more possession on Saturday should be a concern. The hint of staleness about the Gunners' performances may be rectified by Theo Walcott's return, but Wenger has warned that the winger is still "a bit off the pace of high level competition".

It is an absence of high-level competition in the Arsenal squad that threatens their shelf life at the top of the table and Wenger's decision to play down the need for a new striker is hardly the reassurance fans were looking for. "The manager is more concienciado - more concentrated, more conscious," said Santi Cazorla last week, but while that may apply to his focus on how he wants the team to play, it must be expanded to his assessment of the group. Patience in Nicklas Bendtner is simply not acceptable.


Swansea
Three wins on the road and one at home points to where Swansea's problems lie this season (at home, for those struggling to keep up) and with a trip to City next before two home matches against Newcastle and Hull, Michael Laudrup must amend his team's struggles at the Liberty.

A quick word on Jonjo Shelvey and his fine winning goal; while he certainly has that 'in his locker' (God knows what else is in there), it's time the midfielder demonstrated his talent more consistently. Shelvey should be looking at Tom Cleverley's inclusion in the England squad and working out what he needs to do to usurp him, starting with a new celebration.


Romelu Lukaku
A loan spell that started with Lukaku giving Jose Mourinho food for thought has now become a big wedge of humble pie lodged in the Chelsea manager's gullet. For more on Lukaku and Everton 3 Liverpool 3, click here to read 16 Conclusions.


Cardiff
Just reward for their efforts and a delightful move to score their first. It won't be long before they assert the pre-season prediction that they are the promoted team most capable of survival.


Losers


Kevin Friend
"He's no friend of mine!" said a grinning Gus Poyet with a cheeky wink to the camera.

That would have been enjoyable, although perhaps not quite as entertaining as the Sunderland manager hilariously ripping off his jacket as if protection from the elements was the last thing he needed after Friend dismissed Wes Brown. It was an incredibly poor decision, of course, and after Vincent Kompany had his ban rescinded for his tackle on Jack Wilshere last season, Brown can surely expect the same. Although that does require a certain level of competency from the FA.


Artur Boruc
Boruc's contrition after he was caught out against Stoke ("What can I say? I can promise I will get those two points back") failed to prevent the keeper making another mess of things on Saturday and Southampton may have been in second at this stage were it not for the errors made by their tubby funster.


Manchester United's Midfield
Manchester United struggling in midfield? Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle. Genuinely. Please don't ask, we don't like to talk about it outside the family.

Returning to the matter at hand, United's odd couple of Marouane Fellaini and Tom Cleverley gave what is known in football parlance as 'honest' performances against Cardiff, meaning that they proved neither is good enough for a commanding role in the champions' midfield. If I were Wayne Rooney and I had to wait for that sorry pair to get their act together, then I would probably have kicked out in frustration too (and then run away as fast as possible).

United were slow, weak and wounded by the absence of Michael Carrick, who is the cause of much debate himself but at least a far more convincing option in the middle than Fellaini and Cleverley. There is hope yet that the former will come good - and David Moyes will be desperate for that outcome after investing £27million in the Belgian - but Cleverley is surely down to his last life at Old Trafford. There is only so long a 24-year-old can be allowed to underperform at the biggest club in the country. Just ask A...ctually, that may not be entirely true.

I asked here whether United suffered a false start or if it has been a false recovery so far, and Sunday's display in Wales gave a nod towards the latter. That Javier Hernandez, despite his assist for Rooney, failed to have a single attempt on goal in his 73 minutes, points to a lack of attacking impetus. And these are not new concerns about Moyes' management style.

"The manager had obviously been a defender when he played and when it was him and Alan Irvine together (in training), he would always take the defenders and Alan would take the forwards," said David Weir of his time with Moyes at Everton. "It was as if that wasn't his forte. He had his ideas on what he wanted and how he would like to play and he would go through that in detail but probably come at it from a defender's perspective."

That Patrice Evra - who was remarkably candid in his post-match interview - has more assists and creates more chances per game than any of United's midfielders points to a long-standing blind spot that Moyes has thus far failed to address. Unless the manager can generate cohesion between the midfield and attack, the champions are destined to remain enslaved to Rooney's form, which we know could collapse at any stage.


Liverpool
A triumph of Liverpool's "resilience and mentality to fight back", according to Brendan Rodgers, or a disaster of their ability to hold a lead and heed the manager's warnings of set-piece dangers and second-half underperformance. Rodgers was extremely fortunate following his poor changes - quite the opposite of this fixture last season - but forthcoming fixtures against Hull, Norwich and West Ham afford the manager an opportunity to put things right.


Joe Allen
£15million.


Paulinho
Twelve games in and time is up for the Brazilian to prove he should be first pick in Spurs' midfield. Paulinho had played every minute in the Premier League this season before his substitution at City, but that change should determine a more long-term adjustment from Villas-Boas with Mousa Dembele and Sandro clearly the strongest partnership. If it were not for Sandro's unfortunate injury last season, Spurs would have claimed fourth, and Dembele was right to question why he has recently been left on the bench last week.

"The coach has explained that he makes a tactical choice, he wants more defensive players in midfield," said Dembele. "I can't be satisfied with it, of course, I just want to play as many games."

If he isn't awarded the playing time he craves, United should make their move. It was inexplicable that Sir Alex Ferguson didn't sign the Belgian after his outstanding display for Fulham in a 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford at the start of the previous campaign and instead the champions have been forced to spend £12million more on a worse player. How careless.


Tottenham and Andre Villas-Boas
Nick Miller has discussed Tottenham's woes in more depth here, but it is worth stating just how bereft of answers Andre Villas-Boas was following the "embarrassing" defeat to Manchester City.

"It's difficult to explain," said the manager. "It's a game where everything went wrong for us. Our gameplan finished after 15 seconds."

Perhaps leniency is due with regard to the defence, given that Spurs had the best record in the Premier League on Sunday morning, but the problems in attack are mounting at a frightful pace and much of the team's struggles at the Etihad were founded in the ball simply failing to stick in the final third. City are a side who like to hit teams on the counter, and there is no-one more vulnerable to that approach than Spurs at this moment in time, as even blunt West Ham proved at White Hart Lane.

Villas-Boas added that he would look at the possibility of integrating a second striker "if it's the best way for us to score", but one would hope he was already aware of his best system by now. Instead, Spurs have been left to count the cost of their attacking inefficiency and the manager's assertion that "a defeat like this sticks more to your career than an achievement" was hugely pessimistic.

There is a chance to put things right against Manchester United. Incidentally, the last time Spurs 'achieved' their record losing margin in the Premier League - a 7-1 defeat to Newcastle in 1996 - they lost their next fixture at home to United 2-1.


Kyle Walker
The weakest link in a chain of weak links.


West Ham
As many points as Palace since the opening day of the season and an attack so impotent that it's disappeared inside somewhere. Big Sam has big problems and he best switch into Allardici mode quickly if he is to help himself and the ailing Hammers.


Fulham and Norwich
Change is long overdue.

Matthew Stanger - he's on the Twitter, you know

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