Premier League 2012/2013: Team by Team Preview

Arsenal

Key Player: For me, Alex Song was second only to Robin Van Persie in terms of Arsenal’s best players last season and I think that they must do absolutely everything in their power to keep him at the club amidst rumours that Barcelona are on the verge of a securing a move for the dynamic midfield player. I think that losing Song would represent a greater loss to Arsenal than losing Van Persie as the Dutchman’s departure was always expected and therefore planned for whereas Song’s departure would leave Arsenal requiring some quick-fire work in the latter stages of the transfer window.

Alex Song Barcelona

Signings: Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud

What they still need: If Arsenal are planning on offloading either Marouane Chamakh or Nicklas Bendtner then I think they need to invest in another striker but Arsene Wenger seems to think otherwise. They will also need to line up a very decent replacement for Alex Song if he is to be lured to the Nou Camp.

Prediction: 5th

Aston Villa

Key Player: Villa had a pretty dire season last year in almost every way but they certainly had their reasons. I can remember very few Premier League sides ever having endured such a terrible season of injury woe than Villa last year and the major loss of the bunch was Darren Bent who missed the most crucial part of the season as they were sucked into the relegation dogfight. With Bent back on the field they will stand a far greater chance of avoiding relegation worries this season as he remains their only major goal threat.

Bent Villa

Signings: Karim El Ahmadi, Brett Holman, Ron Vlaar, Matthew Lowton

What they still need: Villa could do with someone to help Bent out on the goal scoring front as Gabriel Agbonlahor’s contributions have never been consistent enough. Last season Villa also looked desperately short of creative sparks in their midfield and they would benefit from adding a creative player out wide. Someone like Matt Jarvis of Wolves or Gabriel Obertan of Newcastle would prove a decent addition to their squad and they are prbably both available at the right price.

Prediction: 13th

Chelsea

Key Player: Fernando Torres has struggled for form and fitness over the past few seasons but towards the end of last season there seemed to be a bit of an upturn in form for the once prolific Spaniard and this form followed him unto Spain’s successful Euro 2012 campaign where he won the Golden Boot. In the wake of Chelsea hero Didier Drogba’s departure Torres will need to step up to the plate and take on the bulk of their goal scoring burden and I think we will see something more like his old self in this campaign.

Torres Chelsea

Signings: Oscar, Marko Marin, Eden Hazard, Thorgan Hazard

What they still need: Chelsea need a right back to compete with Branislav Ivanovic and perhaps they could also do with another holding midfield player as Michael Essien seemed to struggle to reach his former heights last season. Don’t rule out a move for a striker either as they aren’t exactly over-stocked in that department.

Prediction: 3rd

Everton

Key Player: Everton are always brilliantly drilled and organised by their fantastic manager David Moyes but the only area in which they have truly struggled during his time at the club is in the goal-scoring department. Never before have they had a striker with such an eye for goal as Nikica Jelavic and if his first half season at the club is anything to go by then they may well have finally found themselves a 20 goal a season man.

Jelavic Everton

Signings: Steven Pienaar, Steven Naismith

What they still need: They were surprisingly active in the January transfer market and have already brought Steven Pienaar back to the club this summer so expect little more movement from Everton. Having said that though, I think a rumoured move for Michael Owen would represent the sort of low-risk move which might take David Moyes’ fancy and he could prove a decent addition if he can keep fit.

Prediction: 8th

Fulham

Key Player: Fulham’s star man is Clint Dempsey. He is far and away their best player and his ability to score a huge haul of goals from midfield has been the difference between them being a mid-table club rather than a side battling to avoid relegation in recent times and it is of paramount importance that they hold on to him if they are to have any chance of progressing. It does however sound like he is at the top of Liverpool’s wanted list and one would have to think that the move will probably go through.

Dempsey Fulham

Signings: Mladen Petric, Hugo Rodallega, Sascha Reither, George Williams

What they still need: If Dempsey decides to move to Liverpool then Fulham will need to either invest in a striker who can take on the task of replacing the void left by Dempsey’s departure in their goals tally or alternatively a midfielder in the Dempsey mould who can score and create goals on a regular basis.

Prediction: 12th

Liverpool

Key Player: He may well be the most, or at very least one of the most, maligned players in the league but Luis Suarez is undoubtedly Liverpool’s best offensive player and they will rely heavily upon him to try and re-assert themselves as a real Premier League force this season. In terms of his contribution in purely football terms Suarez has enjoyed a very decent first season and a half in English football but he needs to score a greater bulk of goals than he has done so far if he is to be truly regarded as one of the most highly revered strikers in world football.

Suarez Liverpool

Signings: Joe Allen, Fabio Borini

What they still need: If Daniel Agger moves to City then Liverpool will definitely have to replace him with someone like Steven Caulker and they could also do with adding more bite to their midfield. It sounds as if they are keen to secure a deal to sign Clint Dempsey and I don’t think there are many sides in the league who wouldn’t benefit from adding him to their squad. Christian Tello and Nuri Sahin are both very firmly on their radar also…

Prediction: 6th

Manchester City

Key Player: Yaya Toure had a sublime season last year and was  arguably the key component of their first ever Premier League winning side. He has adapted his game so easily since joining the club and he has transformed himself into one of the most dynamic roaming midfielders in world football. If City are to make it back-to-back titles then they will need Toure to keep fit and to reach the same levels as last season.

Toure Man City

Signings: Jack Rodwell

What they still need: Do City really need anyone? They could perhaps do with some more competition in central defence as replacement centre half Stefan Savic didn’t look up to the task last season and Daniel Agger would be a great signing if they could pull it off.

Prediction: 1st

Manchester United

Key Player: He may not seem the obvious choice but I think Michael Carrick could and should have a huge part to play in United’s season. At his best he is one of the Premier League’s finest distributors of the ball and he possesses the ability to relieve his defence of an enormous amount of pressure with his very efficient positioning and shielding of the back four. When he is high on confidence he is a totally different player than when he is in and out of the starting lineup and I think it is of little coincidence that United are at their best when Carrick is thriving in the heart of their midfield.

Carrick Man Utd

Signings: Robin Van Persie, Nick Powell, Shinji Kagawa

What they still need: Signing Van Persie has given their chances of gaining revenge on City a huge boost. They could however still do with some more defensive cover and perhaps a holding midfielder.

Prediction: 2nd

Newcastle

Key Player: Since joining Newcastle Cheik Tiote has become one of the most sought after midfield players in English football as his destructive and combative talents have proved completely vital to Newcastle’s successful return to top-flight football. It seems as though Newcastle have done a fantastic job of keeping him happy at the club as I’m sure there would be a whole host of suitors for one of the Premier League’s best holding midfield players if he was ever to declare anything other than his enormous affection for the club.

Tiote Newcastle

Signings: Curtis Good, Romain Amalfitano, Vurnon Anita, Gael Bigrimana

What they still need: Newcastle still need some defensive cover having looked threadbare at the back throughout the second half of last season, other than that though their squad is looking pretty well set for a challenge at securing European qualification for the second season running.

Prediction: 7th

Norwich

Key Player: Last season Grant Holt not only realised his dream of playing Premier League football but he also became perhaps the surprise success story of the entire Premier League season as he banged in the goals which kept Norwich clear of danger. If Norwich are to avoid danger again then Holt will surely again have to reach a similarly decent goals tally.

Holt Norwich

Signings: Michael Turner, Robert Snodgrass, Jacob Butterfield, Javier Garrido, Steven Whittaker

What they still need: Norwich need to bring someone in who can share the goal scoring burden with Grant Holt and they would benefit from investing in a quality centre half.

Prediction: 20th

QPR

Key Player: One of the more interesting transfer deals of the summer has seen Park Ji-Sung leave Manchester United for Queens Park Rangers. Not satisfied anymore with life on the periphery of the United side Park decided to ‘up sticks’ and he signed for Rangers in what could prove to be a great bit of business for the West-Londoners. He became well renowned for his tremendous attitude and work ethic at United but when he was at his best he was more than just a dedicated squad member. He has terrific off the ball movement and if he can just make more of his uncanny ability to pop up in great areas then I’m sure he’ll prove to be a big hit at Loftus Road.

Signings: Park Ji-Sung, Fabio, Ryan Nelsen, Samba Diakite, Andy Johnson, Rob Green, Junior Hoilett

What they still need: QPR need to make improvements in defence having looked very leaky at the back last season and they would be wise to add further defensive recruits as they have the potential to become a top-ten side if only they can find a bit more stability throughout their squad.

Prediction: 10th

Reading

Key Player: Any new Premier League sides desperately need a striker who can reach at least double figures on the goals front and in signing Pavel Pogrebnyak Reading way well have found themselves one. Pogrebnyak’s arrival at the club appears to be a real coup as a couple of more established Premier League and European Clubs were after his services and if he can re-create his start whilst on loan at Fulham last season then he will prove to be a crucial part of Reading’s bid for survival.

Pogrebnyak Reading

Signings: Chris Gunter, Pavel Pogrebnyak, Danny Guthrie, Adrian Mariappa, Nicky Shorey, Gareth McCleary

What they still need: Reading have done pretty well in the transfer market so far having beaten more established sides to the signatures of Pogrebnyak and Guthrie but they could still do with adding some Premier League experience to their squad right across the board. Many are tipping them for the drop but I think they could have a pretty good season.

Prediction:15th

Southampton

Key Player: Rickie Lambert has proven himself to be a lethal marksman at football league and championship level but it remains to be seen whether he can emulate the likes of Grant Holt and make a success of himself in the Premier League. Southampton haven’t invested much in new signings so far this summer so if they are to re-establish themselves as a top-flight side then they will be reliant once again on Lambert finding the back of the net on a regular basis.

Lambert Southampton

Signings: Jay Rodriguez, Steven Davis, Nathaniel Clyne, Paolo Gazzaniga

What they still need: Southampton must add greater numbers and a greater amount of experience to their squad as they look a little lightweight in every department at the minute. The signings they have made so far have actually been pretty good but they definitely need to invest more if they are to have any hope of staying up.

Prediction:18th

Stoke

Key Player: Tony Pulis put a lot of faith in Peter Crouch last summer when he splashed over £10m on the ageing England international but his faith was repaid as Crouch led the line admirably for the Potters. Hopes will be high again for Crouch to deliver and if he scores ten to fifteen goals then Stoke should be in decent shape to avoid being lured into a relegation battle.

Crouch Stoke City

Signings: Michael Kightly, Geoff Cameron, Jamie Ness

What they still need: Stoke have done a great job establishing themselves as a Premier League club and now they need to ensure that this remains the case. If they are to steer clear of any flirtations with trouble then I think they need to sign a creative central midfield player as they are short of genuine playmakers.

Prediction: 14th

Sunderland

Key Player: Last season Stephane Sessegnon was far and away Sunderland’s best player. The diminutive midfielder is an elusive off the ball runner and he has the ability to unlock doors in any opposition’s defences so he will always be a major threat. If they can keep him sweet and team him up with a new front man then he could well continue to establish himself as one of the Premier League’s finest playmakers.

Sessegnon Sunderland

Signings: Louis Saha, Carlos Cuellar

What they still need: They may have added Saha to their ranks but they still desperately need another striker and it sounds as if they are trying their utmost to land Steven Fletcher from Wolves. They could also do with more cover across all positions at the back.

Prediction: 9th

Swansea

Key Player: In the wake of Joe Allen’s departure from the club, Swansea are left without arguably their best player from last season but up until now at least they have managed to hold on to Scott Sinclair who has also been fantastic for them over the past couple of seasons. In his attacking midfield role Michael Laudrup will need Sinclair, his star man, to contribute heavily both in terms of goals scored and assists made otherwise the Swans could struggle to remain a Premier League club come the end of the season.

Sinclair Swansea City

Signings: Michu, Jose Manuel Flores, Jonathan De Guzman, Itay Shechter

What they still need: Swansea could do with replacing the playmaking talents of the departed Joe Allen and it wouldn’t hurt them to try and sign a new striker to compete for a place with Danny Graham as well. If Scott Sinclair is tempted away in the coming weeks by Manchester City then it would also be of paramount importance that they find a suitable replacement.

Prediction: 17th

Tottenham

Key Player: New signing Jan Vertonghen has impressed greatly in his time at former club Ajax and Spurs will need to him to settle very quickly in London if they are seriously challenge for the top few places in the league. Now that their defensive rock Ledley King has finally had to call it a day for his injury-plagued career there is a huge void left in Tottenham’s defence which creaked at times last year and Vertonghen will be required to fill it.

Vertonghen Spurs

Signings: Jan Vertonghen, Gylfi Sigurdsson

What they still need: A replacement for Luka Modric is a must and they could do with a couple of strikers also. They will still be hoping they can make a deal for Emmannuel Adebayor work and they may also try to land either one of Loic Remy or Leandro Damaio who have both been on their radar for quite a while. Andy Carroll could also be an option…

Prediction: 4th

West Brom

Key Player: Ben Foster has proven himself to be a very decent Premier League goalkeeper at a few different clubs now and though he is a keeper with an error-prone streak in him he is also a keeper capable of match-winning performances. Sometimes there seems to be absolutely no way past Foster and West Brom will need him to have several of these days in the forthcoming season if they are to avoid a post-Roy Hodgson era hangover under new manager Steve Clarke.

Foster West Brom

Signings: Markus Rosenberg, Ben Foster, Yassine El Ghanassy, Claudio Yacob

What they still need: West Brom’s squad could do with the addition of a striker who could bag them 15-20 goals a season and a midfielder capable of providing the service necessary to make this possible. Matt Jarvis might be a good option as he is a proven creator and scorer of Premier League goals from wide positions.

Prediction: 19th

West Ham

Key Player: James Tomkins has already had a taste of Premier League action having featured regularly in West Ham’s relegation season but this time he will be hoping to prove that he has developed his game sufficiently to help West Ham avoid the drop this time around. He has been the recipient of a lot of praise since West Ham found themselves back in the Championship and he will be desperate to continue his strong rate of development at the highest level this season.

Tomkins West Ham

Signings: Modibo Maiga, James Collins, Alou Diarra, Mohamed Diame, Stephen Henderson, Jussi Jaaskelainen, George McCartney

What they still need: The Hammers have recruited very well so far this summer but if they have aspirations of doing more than just staying up then they could do with one or two more faces. Their midfield now looks packed with strength and combative players but they still look slightly lightweight in terms of creative forces.

Prediction: 11th

Wigan

Key Player: New signing Arouna Kone notched an impressive 17 goals in 34 appearances for former club Levante last season and if Wigan are to steer clear of their now annual relegation battle then he will need to be similarly potent for his new club. Wigan have always struggled to find a consistent goal scorer in their years as a Premier League club but in Kone they may finally have found one. We’ll have to wait and see…

Kone Wigan

Signings: Arouna Kone, Fraser Fyvie, Ivan Ramis

What they still need: They could do with strengthening their defence and adding toughness to their midfield, they ideally would like to add players who already have Premier League experience. Another must for Wigan is either holding onto Victor Moses or alternatively spending the money made from any deal involving Moses wisely on a player or a couple of players who are capable of replacing his considerable talents.

Prediction: 16th

Manchester homes in on the title, but which of the city’s teams will triumph?

As Sir Alex Ferguson is always so keen to point out, when it comes to March and the title race really hots up, Manchester United tend to come good.

So here we are, March has arrived and what better time for the United’s veteran squad members to find their best and contribute the potentially title deciding goals in a tricky, hard-earned and last-gasp away victory?

Manchester City soundly did their side of things last weekend and put the pressure firmly on the shoulders of Manchester United with just about as comfortable a victory as is possible to come across in the Premier League, winning 3-0 at home to Blackburn. As such, United needed to find an away win over this season’s surprise package Norwich, and as it turned out they were pushed to within an inch of their powers in order to come up with the goods.

United’s eventual 2-1 win was a far-cry from the ‘walk in the park’ City had enjoyed the day before, but sadly for City the reward for their for more domineering win was just the same as United’s for their lacklustre performance; a crucial three points.

The Champions have therefore managed to cut the points difference back to just two points and with only a third of the Premier League season remaining are still well on the case of their bitter rivals. These two wins accrued by the Manchester club’s last weekend may have left them both battling hard for the title but third placed Tottenham saw their challenge effectively ended by their humiliating 5-2 defeat against arch-rivals Arsenal.

Will it be Ferguson or Mancini that comes out on top?

So, seeing as Spurs have fallen by the way-side and that we have reached ‘crunch-time’ in Manchester’s dual-pursuit of Premier League glory I have decided to make predictions for the remaining rounds of fixtures and have worked out where my predictions would take the Premier League trophy. Will it be the Etihad for the first time, or, will it go back to it’s second home (Old Trafford) once again?

  • (A) = Away Fixture
  • (H) = Home Fixture

12 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 2-2 Tottenham (A)

Manchester City 3-0 Bolton (H)

11 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 3-1 West Brom (H)

Manchester City 2-1 Swansea (A)

10 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 2-0 Wolves (A)

Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea (H)

9 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 3-0 Fulham (H)

Manchester City 1-1 Stoke (A)

8 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 2-0 Blackburn (A)

Manchester City 3-1 Sunderland

7 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 5-0 QPR (H)

Manchester City 2-1 Arsenal (A)

6 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 3-1 Wigan (A)

Manchester City 1-1 West Brom (H)

5 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 2-1 Aston Villa (H)

Manchester City 3-1 Norwich (A)

4 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 1-1 Everton (H)

Manchester City 3-0 Wolves (A)

3 Games Remaining:

Manchester City 2-1 Manchester United

2 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 3-0 Swansea (H)

Manchester City 1-2 Newcastle (A)

Last Day of the Season:

Manchester United 2-1 Sunderland (A)

Manchester City 3-1 QPR (H)

 

Predicted Final Standings:

If things were to go as I’ve predicted then the eventual look of the Premier League table would be as follows…

1. Manchester City (92 Points, Goal Difference of +64)

2. Manchester United (90 Points, Goal Difference of +57)

 

So, if my predictions are there or thereabouts then City will win their first Premier League title and they would do so by the narrow two point margin that they currently boast over their rivals heading into the final third of the season. Regardless of the outcome, it is fair to say that the rest of this season is set to be very interesting indeed!

Manchester’s El Classico: The Breakdown

With the dust settling on today’s epic Manchester derby I have broken this rollercoaster of a game down into bite size chunks and run the rule over the key moments.

The first ten minutes and Rooney’s deadlock breaker:

Having come strongly out of the blocks it must have been a huge blow to City to have conceded so early and to have done so completely against the run of play.

The first few minutes were territorially dominated by the hosts and they too had the lion’s share of the early possession, but Rooney’s moment of magic came as a sucker punch. Having dropped smartly into the hole he received the ball into feet and shifted it swiftly onto Luis Antonio Valencia whose measured first time cross was met with a towering header from Rooney. All jokes aside about Rooney’s hair transplant and a consequent boost in aerial ability, this was a magnificent finish. He quite literally put his neck on the line and bravely rose to divert the ball home from the penalty spot, beating his own team mate Nani to the ball. This fine opening goal set the tone for a romping first half from United.

The red card:

For me the referee got it right. Some might accuse me of seeing this through red-tinted glasses, but I honestly believe that this was the right decision according to the rule-book.

I wish that tackles like that of Kompany’s weren’t red card offences, but if you go in two-footed like he did then you run the risk of an early bath. The rules of the modern game are designed to bring greater control and Kompany was naiive to raise both sets of studs when really there was little need for such a committed challenge. A simple block tackle would have sufficed but Kompany’s slide gave the illusion of a lack of control when it simply wasn’t necessary, and now we’ll never know how City might have fared with 11 men over the whole 90 minutes.

Kolarov’s brilliant strike and the shift in momentum:

To even have the slightest chance of an unlikely fightback from 3-0 down at half time, City desperately needed a moment of inspiration. Fortunately for Mancini’s men, Aleksandar Kolarov duly provided this with a brilliantly accurate, dipping free kick.

As is so often the case, City’s fans were lifted by the wonder goal and got back on side. Their renewed support picked up the mood at the Etihad amidst the miserable lashing rain in Manchester, and for the next 20 to 30 minutes City were undeniably brilliant. Throughout this period they strained to get behind the ball when not in possession, and when they managed to steal the ball they looked forwards quickly and brought the outstanding Sergio Aguero back into the game. This period culminated in Aguero prodding in the rebound to his own saved shot and giving City what at half time seemed the unlikeliest glimmer of hope.

Paul Scholes’ return:

United’s little, ginger magician returned today and played a significant role in letting City get back in with a sniff. Soon after his return to action, his sloppy short pass was intercepted in a move that led to Aguero’s goal and consequently City’s renewed hope of getting back into the match.

However, from that moment on Scholes recovered and reminded us of his great strengths. His pass completion percentage in the match was 97%, which is indicative of the calm he brought to United’s attempts to keep hold of possession in the last 20 minutes of the game. He may have contributed to City’s revival attempts, but he also played a key role in diffusing their late onslaughts.

Whether you are a United fan or not, it is hard to deny that Scholes has been one of the greatest players of the Premier League era and that his return to action is a welcome one. He may not have the legs of old but his distribution and touch were still top notch towards the end of last season and I can see little reason why this would have deteriorated since then given his continued training with United ‘s reserves.

His chid like grin as he stepped over the white line suggested he was more than just a little happy to be back in the thick of it, and most football purists will be equally as pleased to have him back.

The victors, and their reward for their efforts…

So… after all the mayhem at the Etihad, United eventually came out as narrow victors. Sir Alex Ferguson is rightly bemused by his side’s defensive fragility in the second half, but when he wakes up tomorrow he will surely just be glad to have brought a triumphant end to a poor couple of games.

United’s reward for the win is a tasty encounter with Liverpool at Anfield. Lets hope this equally brutal rivalry will manifest itself in a similar manner to today, because if this is the case we are in for another cracking cup tie.

 

 

FA Cup Third Round: My Manchester XI

With the dawn of another epic Manchester derby on the horizon I have taken a close look at those available for the 3rd round FA Cup tie and picked my first XI out of the combined match day squads. My team is as below…

The club's two managers would surely love to pick players from each other's squads if they could

(4-1-3-2)

GK: Joe Hart

An easy pick. Neither David De Gea or Anders Lindegaard have really taken command in their respective bids to become Sir Alex’s number one and have both been under question for error-strewn performances. On the other hand, Joe Hart has revelled in his role of huge responsibility at City and is fast becoming one of the stand out goalkeepers in world football.

RB: Micah Richards

When he burst on the the scene a few years back Micah Richards looked set for stardom for both club and country. Though things haven’t exactly gone to plan since then, he has had a very decent season so far and will surely break Fabio Capello’s resolve eventually and make it into his Euro 2012 squad. One of his biggest rivals for a place in England’s squad is United’s Chris Smalling who after a very promising start to the season has tailed off a little. Richards would get my vote for the right back slot in the national team and he gets my vote here too.

CB: Vincent Kompany (c)

Kompany has been outstanding for City throughout 2011 and looks set to carry such imperious form into the new year. He is to City what Nemanja Vidic is to United, and the injury-enforced absence of Vidic from United’s plans is arguably the difference between the two sides at present in the Premier League title race.

CB: Phil Jones

God knows where this hugely talented young man will end up playing for club and country, but he has had a brilliant first season at United no matter where they’ve been playing him. In spite of his great promise, he has endured a couple of very tough outings this past fortnight and his inexperience and naiivity was exposed at times by Newcastle. He might not be at his best at the moment, but Jones is a fantastic young player and will surely go on to be a major success story for United. In this line-up his pace and ball playing ability would compliment Kompany’s strength and discipline very nicely.

LB: Patrice Evra

Though I am one of many who thinks that Evra is perhaps something of a fading force, there is no questioning his remaining ability. He may not be in great form at present, but he is immensly experienced and still has the pace to fly up and down the left flank. For me he is still a far better left-back than Gael Clichy or Aleksandar Kolarov of City.

CDM: Nigel De Jong

In the absence of the suspended Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure who has left for international duty Nigel De Jong will be a hugely important player for City in the coming weeks. In my eyes he is a stronger option than the absent Gareth Barry even when he is available, so to slot him into City’s holding role will hardly weaken their side. In this role United barely provide any competition to De Jong.

Nani excelled against City in the Community Shield

RAM: Nani

The word mercurial is certainly applicable to Nani. When he is at his best he is damn near unstoppable as City found out in the Community Shield in August, but when he is at his worst he is wasteful, greedy and a bad influence on his team mates. Putting to one side for a moment his more irritating tendencies, Nani has become one of the world’s best wide men over the past two seasons. His electric pace, fast-feet, improved delivery and ability to score match-winning wonder goals has seen him rise from a frustrating talent to being one of United’s most potent attacking forces. There isn’t a side in the Premier League that he wouldn’t get in to.

CAM:David Silva

The brilliant little Spaniard has been a little quiet of late but there is no doubting his quality. If there is no Premier League side that Nani wouldn’t get into, then there is no side in world football that Silva couldn’t. United will still be having nightmares about the ‘magicians’ role in the 6-1 win at Old Trafford.

Silva was key to the 6-1 demolition of United @ OT

LAM: Samir Nasri

Like Nani of United, Samir Nasri has phenomenal ability and can at times be a match winner in his own right. His form this season though has failed to live up to his impressive showings in an Arsenal shirt. The man who it seems had the choice of the two Manchester clubs in the summer has a point to prove to the City fans and his manager Roberto Mancini. What better time for him to produce the goods than against United in the cup?

STR: Sergio Aguero

With Mario Balotelli set to miss out with injury, and Edin Dzeko too, the burden of leading the line for City is likely to fall upon Aguero’s shoulders. The Argentine live wire has been instrumental in City’s success so far this season and has racked up a very decent goal count for his first half-campaign of Premier League football. He would comfortably make it into United’s line up at present.

STR: Wayne Rooney

There are few more dangerous forces in world football than a hurt Wayne Rooney. Off the back of disciplinary troubles with United and an abject performance against Newcastle, Rooney will no doubt be more determined than ever to play a part in the demise of United’s local rivals. A partnership of his creative self and the electric Sergio Aguero would be about as good as it gets in world football.

Honourable mentions:

Chris Smalling: A good start to the season seems to have left a lasting impression both upon Sir Alex Ferguson and national team manager Fabio Capello, but on recent form Micah Richards is worthy of getting the nod ahead of him at right back.

Luis Antonio Valencia: A slow start to the 2011-2012 campaign seemed to indicate a struggle for form and fitness, but Valencia has had a good month. His role in the back-to-back 5-0 wins in December and the win over QPR will have gone some way to once again endearing himself to the Old Trafford faithful. He pushes Samir Nasri very close for a place in my line-up.

James Milner: I can’t quite find a way to include him in my combined team, but he seems to have finally found his place at City. It seemed initially that he was struggling to find his best for his latest club, but the England international has impressed when called upon this season.

Javier Hernandez: Hernandez is enormously talented but for me he lacks technical ability. There are few better operators inside the 18 yard box in world football but when required to drop in or pull wide in order to create, Hernandez just isn’t quite up there with the likes of Aguero who also possesses the ability to score from range unlike ‘Chicarito’. Lets look forward to a 30 yard winner from Hernandez tomorrow then!

Tactical Breakdown: United found wanting in all departments en-route to embarrassing exit

Below is my breakdown of United’s major failings in the Champions League this season and my analysis of just why the varying frailties have caused them to fall so humiliatingly from grace.

1) Lack of fire power up-front:

Throughout the group stages United didn’t exactly set the world alight in terms of either their chance creation or chance conversion and as such they failed to ever really impose themselves on their opposition. When you think of United in their pomp you think of their devastating counter attacks and spells of unrelenting pressure that yield a couple of goals a time but these has been very thin on the ground. I am struggling to recall a time when they have looked less likely to turn their pressure into the priceless commodity of goals.

Last night 90 minutes of majority possession and territory was rewarded with just a single goal, and quite a fortunate goal at that! But this lack of productivity has been the story of their group campaign and wasn’t just limited to last night’s disappointing display. Even against Otelul Galati they struggled to provide a major goal threat, relying on two penalties in Galati and then one horribly deflected strike on home turf against the whipping boys of the group en-route to achieving just four goals from two games against the minnows.

There are several contributing factors to the lack of a genuine goal threat but the most significant has been that no one has stepped up and taken on the responsibility of being chief goal-getter. Rooney has scored a few in the group, though as mentioned two were spot kicks, Hernandez has failed to accumulate a strong tally, Berbatov has found his opportunities severely limited and Danny Wellbeck has spent too long on the sidleines with niggles to have a serious impact. Just like in international football, you simply must take the limited golden chances that come your way and United simply haven’t.

2) Limited creation and no natural holding player in central midfield:

It was reported all summer that Sir Alex was flirting with a pricey move for Wesley Sneijder and boy how they could’ve done with him throughout the group stage. United’s ability to unlock the door with the midfield has always been a strong-suit of theirs with the likes of Paul Scholes providing the creative instinct, but, since Scholes’ retirement United have struggled to find a suitable replacement from within the camp and haven’t brought anybody else in to fill the void.

Against Basle last night it soon became clear that United are desperately lacking in terms of central creators and as such they were only having joy out on the flanks. In the first half Nani was in electric form and was being given plenty of the ball due to United’s inability to create chances through the middle, but as soon as Basle cottoned onto this they were able to swamp Nani and provide extra cover out wide, thus negating his previously constant threat. The angle of attack, as it has been in several games, was far too predictable and it all stems from their inability to emulate the likes of Barcelona and create from the central areas of the pitch.

Another worry for must be their absence of a natural holding midfield player. Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher are both decent at playing from deep and can both be fairly combative but they don’t quite fulfil the sort of role that Sergio Busquets or Xabi Alonso do for Barcelona and Real Madrid. We even saw Chelsea’s fortunes dramatically improve in their Champions League tie on Tuesday night courtesy of Oriol Romeu’s very successful inclusion in the defensive midfield role. United must act quickly to find their greatest fit to this role, and with Nemanja Vidic’s potentially very serious injury it appears that Phil Jones is going to be needed in defence and therefore won’t be a particularly viable option.

3) Defensive fragility:

United’s inability to keep clean sheets in the group has been a major theme in their downfall. It is very unlike one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s sides to be so fragile at the back and arguably the two games against Basle provided the greatest examples of this weakness. In the home game against Basle they managed to slump from two nil ahead to a losing position within the space of about 20 minutes and in this period the defending was horrific. Last night witnessed Basle very much on the back foot throughout, but every time they did venture forwards United looked unstable. Xerdan Shaquiri’s strong running on the flanks and through the centre struck fear into the United defence and they continuously backed off from him allowing to roam further. Very rarely did Basle muster up a goal scoring opportunity in the game, but they still somehow managed to net twice and come out on top, this speaks volumes about the uncertainty in United’s defensive ranks at present.

It is worth mentioning that injury problems have compounded the defensive issues with the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling and the Da Silva twins all having spent periods of the group stages on the sidelines. The spate of short term absences in United’s defence have led to great levels of unavoidable inconsistency in selection and as such the performances at the back have tended to follow suit.

4) Problems in goal:

Another contributing factor to United’s defensive uncertainty has been the unconvincing displays in goal of David De Gea. In the opening game of the group United faced Benfica and Sir Alex opted to play Anders Lindegaard in goal ahead of De Gea and he impressed in this outing. Since though, Ferguson has tended to go with his number one De Gea and has been left a little let down by his young Spanish stopper.

Last night’s problems began with United conceding the early goal and De Gea was certainly partially at fault for this. When Shaquiri fired in his stinging cross De Gea opted to deal with it using his legs when getting his upper body in the way probably would have been more appropriate, and this hasn’t been his only blunder of the group stages. Against Benfica he over-estimated his undoubted ability when it comes to playing and distributing the ball and attempted the sort of cute delivery that you might see Xavi and Andres Iniesta attempt in the attacking third for Barcelona. Needless to say this ball was cut out and led to the equaliser which killed United’s momentum and effectively lost them two points, which of course would have seen them avoid their embarrassing early exit from the competition.

In essence, Manchester United spent far too much time failing to make the most of their possession and territory in attack and then looked incredibly vulnerable when defending against the opposition’s counter-attacks, and it has cost them their place at European football’s top table. Sir Alex Ferguson must take serious note of his side’s weaknesses and must act quickly to try and remedy the many frailties that have been so damagingly exposed on the continent thus far this season. At least the Europa League will be fun… my mistake…

City’s aspirations must be in tune with the past successes of United

This weekend plays host to one of the most awaited Manchester derby matches ever to have graced the Premier League. With City well and truly on the rise in domestic football, hopes will be as high as ever this Sunday amongst their fans regarding their chances of turning over their more illustrious neighbours.

So far this season City have been the focus of much positive and negative attention. Whilst their on-field stylings have been praised for their increased panache and adventure in league football, their European exploits on and off the field have brought yet more unwanted attention to the football club.

When considering the ‘shocking’ moments on and off the field in recent Premier League history it must be said that Manchester City have been at the centre of events all too often. Think Joey Barton and his multiple headline grabbing off-field acts such as violently attacking team-mate Ousmane Dabo. Think Emannuel Adebayor’s day of shame against old club Arsenal where he celebrated a goal with a full length of the field sprint to taunt the Arsenal fans, as well as viciously stamping on Robin Van Persie’s face. Think Carlos Tevez’s childish refusal to come on from the bench against Bayern. Think Mario Balotelli in general. Think of Gary Cooke’s departure from the club amidst stories of entirely inappropriate emails sent mistakenly to the subject of his insensitivity. It has been a tough time for the club and the men in suits constantly being thrust in front of the press to talk about the ‘regretful’ circumstances have certainly been earning their presumably rather decent salaries.

The club should be on the crest of a wave. They are now the holders of a major trophy, they are playing Champions League football and sit atop the table, but for now as long as the perpetual episodes of nonsense continue the club can’t help but be affected.

It must be conceded that United too have had their fair share of controversy in recent times. Ryan Giggs’ all too public failed cover-up of his alleged affairs and Wayne Rooney’s seeming gluttony for headline acts of stupidity act as evidence of this. However, these moments of questionable behaviour have rarely undermined the club or manager Sir Alex Ferguson in the same way that some of City’s moments of ill-discipline have. Rooney verged on doing so with his criticism of the club’s transfer policy last year amidst fears that he wanted to leave the club, but that aside, at United there seems to be a greater sense of cohesion and respect than at City. This is the sort of respect and attitude that develops as a result of year’s of success and dominance which of course City are yet to have enjoyed.

With the way City are performing at present it seems very likely that they could add to their trophy cabinet again this season, and indeed for the next few seasons. With this will come the by-product of respect and authority which they currently lack. For this reason I think that regardless of this Sunday’s result, that Manchester United will win the league again this season. This isn’t to say City couldn’t again have some domestic success in the Cup competitions, as this is where I believe their best chances of success still reside. They are undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with and this Sunday’s game is, as a result, draped with intrigue and excitement.

In recent weeks City have pushed themselves into a position where they have a points advantage over their neighbours in the early stages of the title race. While United have looked more fragile in their last couple of Premier League and European outings, City have arguably had the edge over them with big results against the likes of Everton, Blackburn, Aston Villa and most recently Villareal. Tuesday night’s win over the Spaniards looked rather eerily like the sort of win which United have become famed for. To play well below your best but still come up with the goods in a big European tie, even if it does take the very last kick of the game to do so, is an art form in the world of football. All the best side’s are capable of doing this at least five or six times a season and it is what marks them clearly above and beyond the rest of their competitors.

In spite of their slightly more favourable recent results I am backing City to lose 2-1 this weekend. It will take time before City can go into such matches as favourites and it is a title they will have to work awfully hard to earn. They are on the up, of that there is no doubt, but in this match and this Premier League season I think United will just about come out on top of them. Give City a couple of years and a couple more trophy successes and they could be ready to topple United. In the meantime they must focus on maturing as a club and as individual’s rather than letting their fame and fortune get the better of them. United are far from perfect on and off the field, but City are even further away and for that reason the the City of Manchester could again be painted red this Sunday.