Man City Top The Winners List

Man City impressed at Old Trafford without having to get out of third gear, while Liverpool maintained momentum in the title race with a nervy win over Sunderland...

Last Updated: 27/03/14 at 16:04 Post Comment

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Manchester City
A victory that lifts Manchester City three points behind Chelsea with two games in hand - at home to Sunderland and Aston Villa. In truth, they didn't even need to play at their best to ease to a 3-0 win at Old Trafford, and it could well be the same when they face another wounded animal at Arsenal on Saturday. Perhaps City's remaining fixture list isn't as tough as we first believed.

Manuel Pellegrini was delighted with his team's assiduous performance on Tuesday, but he was perhaps being generous to the defending champions when he said: "It was very important psychologically because it was one of the three big matches we had still to play, and it was against a great team like Manchester United." There hasn't been much that is 'great' about United this season, though, as City will surely know following their third consecutive victory over their rivals and 7-1 aggregate success this season.

Pellegrini will perhaps be concerned with a vulnerable period towards the end of the first half, when United looked like they might force themselves back into the contest, but on the whole City found it embarrassingly easy. They kept the champions at arm's length for 70 minutes, steaming into an early lead and then increasing their advantage with a swagger in the second half.

With Sergio Aguero close to returning from a hamstring strain, the worry for Chelsea and Liverpool is that City are only going to get stronger. The Blues won three of eight matches from the start of February, scoring just eight goals, but have been victorious in the last three by a total scoreline of 10-0. It is quite a return to form, with Aguero's recovery - possibly in time for the Arsenal clash - building on a noticeable improvement in the team's performances.

On Tuesday it was David Silva, Edin Dzeko and Yaya Toure who impressed the most. The former's superb display hinted at the contribution David Moyes could get from Juan Mata if he works out how to use him, while Dzeko silenced this particular column with two vital strikes. The forward has been wildly hit-and-miss this season, scoring only once in his previous five Premier League appearances before the derby and blasting 20 of 24 shots off target, but he impressed throughout at Old Trafford.

As did Toure, other than in that slightly nervy period before the interval when City's midfield went AWOL. The Ivorian's recent form provoked Moyes into a cautious approach as he packed the midfield, but Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley were simply no match for the visitors. Toure continued to play the game at his own pace, arrogantly brushing off his opponents and then strolling forward in the final minutes to score a third in the manner of a man who thought: "Yeah, I might as well get a goal for myself now."

With United struggling in seventh and almost certain to miss out on Champions League football next season, we may well look back on Tuesday's derby as the moment the tables finally turned in Manchester. At present, City seem destined to only grow stronger, while United are refusing to help themselves in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, sliding ever deeper into a fetid pit of mediocrity.

Phew. A match that should perhaps have yielded a much bigger scoreline, given Liverpool's recent exploits, but still brought a return of three crucial points despite a nervy last 15 minutes. In the past, the Reds would probably have drawn this game to suffer a premature end to their winning run. But Brendan Rodgers has cultivated a strong mentality at Anfield, with the 'confidence effect' carrying the team through little dips in performances that previously had the potential to derail Liverpool's aspirations.

The curious thing about Rodgers is that his post-match comments have been more sensible as a title challenge that makes little sense in the context of pre-season predicitions continues to pick up speed. While Rodgers could be forgiven for getting carried away, he has instead exuded a calmness that has helped his players to remain focused. "For us there is not the expectancy this year when you look at City, the squad they have and the money they've spent, and Chelsea," he said on Wednesday. "The pressure will be there but the pressure is for ourselves."

Compared to the manager targeting second place in December 2012, when Liverpool were 11 points behind Manchester City, his more measured reflection is a welcome change. Pride has come before enough falls for Rodgers to know that playing down his team's chances is the right approach. And anyway, there is no need to talk up the Reds' performances this season when everyone else is happy to do that for him following an extraordinary run of seven successive victories and ten in the last 12 matches.

Tottenham are likely to provide a tough test on Sunday following their rejuvenating win over Southampton, but Liverpool have dealt with everything that's been thrown at them in recent weeks. The visitors will want to avenge December's 5-0 thrashing that cost Andre Villas-Boas his job, but Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge will be salivating at the prospect of facing a team that have conceded 12 goals in their last five fixtures.

Everton and Ross Barkley
Suddenly Roberto Martinez's bold claim that he can take Everton into the Champions League doesn't look so fanciful. Martinez must have been embarrassed when Bill Kenwright revealed the ambition he shared during his interview upon the Spaniard's appointment, but it's now Arsenal who are blushing as the Toffees threaten to steal fourth place.

Everton have been so impressive this season that we pondered in Mid Bigweek whether Tuesday's trip to Newcastle could be seen as a game they should win. The answer was provided with an emphatic display that saw Ross Barkley further his World Cup chances with a slalom that wouldn't have looked out of place in Sochi. Get him on the plane, Roy.

Perhaps it's a little mean - and certainly a contradiction to Thursday's Mediawatch - to use Barkley's form as another stick to beat David Moyes, but the youngster's rapid development under Martinez is rather damning of the Scot's ability to bring on youngsters. "Moyes was never interested in our youth team or players," said Everton academy coach Kevin Sheedy last week, and there may be a grain of truth in that. If not, how else did he fail to nurture Barkley's obvious talent and ease him into a first-team role?

Perhaps the 20-year-old simply wasn't ready last season, but given his performances this year - and those of Moyes' £27m signing Marouane Fellaini - one wonders what fees the pair would fetch in the summer were both made available. Moyes has preached transition at United throughout his ten months in charge - and rightly so - but recruiting Barkley last summer, rather than pursuing Fellaini and Leighton Baines, would have been a statement to support his vision for the future. Instead, a raw diamond was ignored in favour of a limited bully who offers nothing in the manager's quest to find a more pleasing style.

But enough of Moyes, for now. Everton's achievements under Martinez deserve to be discussed in their own right. Three defeats in four matches - away to Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea, with the last two arguably undeserved - looked to have ended the Toffees' faint top-four hopes, but they are firmly back on course following four consecutive victories.

The encouraging thing for Martinez going into the final eight matches is that Tuesday's win over Newcastle hinted that his team are continuing to improve. It was their biggest winning scoreline in the Premier League since the 4-1 win over Fulham in December, with the Cottagers providing the next opposition on Sunday. Win at Craven Cottage and, should Arsenal lose at home to City - a distinct possibility - then Everton could be only three points behind the Gunners before they host them at Goodison on April 6. Plus, they have a game in hand at home to Crystal Palace. It looks like it's about to get interesting.

A performance to suggest they can escape their malaise, but the Swans will almost feel like they lost after Lee Probert denied Jonathan de Guzman the chance to score a last-minute winner.


Sam Allardyce
West Ham may have been winners on Wednesday, courtesy of a penalty and a horrible own goal, but fans were clearly disgruntled as boos rang out at Upton Park at full-time. It was not the end to a three-match losing streak that Sam Allardyce expected.

Channelling a garish nineties wrestler, Allardyce cupped his ear to the stands, before saying: "I did it because I was hearing booing, I couldn't quite believe it. I'd seen something I've never seen before. I can't understand it, to be honest."

But this is not the first time Allardyce has struggled with the delicate balance of harmonising results with performances fans are happy to pay to watch. It is not cheap to be match-going supporter, and so it is no surprise that Hammers fans have been left unimpressed by a scrappy campaign of one step forward, one step backward until a final standing destined to fall in mid-table obscurity.

That Allardyce still relies on the combination of Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan says a great deal about his management style in a debate that stretches back to his first stint in the Premier League with Bolton. His achievements have been many, but not varied, and familiarity soon breeds contempt.

Remember when Alan Pardew was talking about overtaking Manchester United? Oh wait, that's still possible.

Losers for reasons carefully dissected by Adam Bate from the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday evening. Saturday's clash against Manchester City may no longer have any bearing on the title race - at least not in the manner Arsenal wish - but it could have a huge impact on the future of Arsene Wenger.

With reports this week that the manager's new contract has been cut by a year to just two more seasons, one wonders if another mauling to a rival would cause another re-think. Wenger deserves the right to choose his own departure date, but the results in his 1,000th and 1,001st matches will have hurt him more than anyone. The question is whether he remains motivated to have one more go at winning the title. The game is changing beneath Wenger's feet, and he looks increasingly uneasy.

Three points behind Crystal Palace and West Brom and now with only one game in hand. Don't worry, though - we're sure they can pick up a result in that match at the Etihad.

Manchester United
And so the tide has turned, with fans trying to rip down the 'Chosen One' banner - pathetically protected by stewards - a supporter thrown out for calling on Moyes to resign and even Sir Alex Ferguson getting it in the neck. There have been murmurings of discontent for weeks at Old Trafford, but the change in the atmosphere was rather sudden on Tuesday.

Of course, it is simply not good enough. From Moyes, undoubtedly, but even more so from those who are supposed to be running the club. While the manager has left the team a shambles, it is unforgivable for those above him to allow cracks to appear in the very foundations.

That United fans feel so helpless that some are planning to fly a 'Moyes Out' banner over Old Trafford says a lot about the current situation at the club. It may be a preposterous idea by supporters who have been spoilt with success, but it points to the deeper issue of the Glazers' indifference towards performances until they impact on the balance sheet.

As Ed Woodward said in a presentation to shareholders in February: "Some of our competitors haven't won the league for a long time but still sell many shirts, including one down the road." There is something so reprehensible about this titanic club being run by owners who simply do not understand a love for football and have neither shown any intent to grasp fans' feelings.

This week's ill-thought-out idea to appoint a supporters' representative to an internal role has come all too late as plasters are sought for a self-inflicted axe wound. United are refusing to help themselves, relying on some fanciful notion of stability when Moyes has shown nothing to deserve more time. And certainly not 'a lot more time' as some in the papers have claimed.

Back in December, we wrote that the players are likely to have the final say in whether the manager can hold on to his position. As speculation of unrest begins to grow, it seems that will eventually be the case. The Glazers have made enough mistakes thus far to know they can't get this one wrong. A new manager - with experience at the highest level and evidence of a convincing playing style - should be found in the summer, backed with substantial funds and trusted to steer the ship away from the iceberg.

Matt Stanger - he's 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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hese days, these days, you can't say something racist without somebody saying that you're a racist.

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rop Rooney (he's so disappointing, overrated and overpaid), and play Di Maria and RVP upfront, much like the set up at the Netherlands team with Roben and RVP...

eric bush3
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