Both Manchester clubs continue to showcase their vulnerability:
Manchester City’s sixth win in seven Manchester derbies was barely convincing, but it at least put a halt to a three game winless run and kept them within touching distance of Chelsea. However, United’s dominance in the last twenty minutes when down to ten men will worry Manuel Pellegrini and it once again showed his sides’ brittle core against esteemed opponents. City shouldn’t have given United a sniff once they took the lead through Sergio Aguero, yet they found themselves hanging on at the end. A more encouraging sign for Pellegrini was the way in which City carved through the United defence even before Chris Smalling was sent off. Attempts from Jesus Navas and Aguero saved in quick succession by David De Gea came off the back of incisive, slick forward play that was a trademark of their title victory last season. They just need to find an extra bit of solidarity to return to their best.
For United, it was the same old story, as a patched up defence failed to impress once more. It is still just one clean sheet in the league so far, which came against lowly QPR. Successful moves for Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao in the summer were ominous signs of intent, but the key issue was once again criminally neglected. The Reds do not have a commanding, experienced centre half regularly fit. Jonny Evans can barely escape the treatment table, whilst Phil Jones and Chris Smalling seem inhibited by the pressure, rather than inspired by it. New signing Marcos Rojo hasn’t been a complete car crash, but he is not a defender in the same league as Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, who both departed this summer. He may also be more naturally suited to left back, and he faces a lengthy spell out after dislocating his shoulder. That left United relying on 19-year-old Paddy Mcnair and Michael Carrick at centre back on Sunday with Antonio Valencia at right back. Van Gaal’s men are simply not well equipped enough in defence to mount anything more than a top four push. For a side that has won many titles based on strong foundations, this continual lack of attention is dumbfounding.
Mason right at home in Spurs midfield:
Harry Kane will grab the headlines for his deflected free-kick winner against Aston Villa, but the recent performances of Ryan Mason should not be quickly forgotten. It has taken Mason a full six years to break into the Spurs first XI, and he certainly appears to be making up for irretrievable time. The 23-year-old appears composed on the ball, unafraid of a tackle and able to make late dashes in the box. With Paulinho and Moussa Dembele both failing to kick on Mason has filled a vital hole, and he could be here to stay. He has already given us a glimpse of his long range shooting with a virtuoso effort against Nottingham Forest, his breakthrough game, and he was unlucky not to score at the Etihad Stadium after another adventurous dash into the box. He will be lucky if he doesn’t escape punishment for his part in Christian Benteke’s red card, but it would seem a waste for him to receive a suspension just as he starts to leave his mark.
Super Sanchez makes CL qualification seem a foregone conclusion:
After a poor start to the campaign Arsenal are all but out of the title once more, but thanks to the blistering form of Alexis Sanchez a top four finish looks a certainty this year, especially given the inconsistencies of others. This may not appease the Arsenal faithful, who constantly clamour for a proper title challenge, but it is still vital they don’t finish outside the Champions League places. Southampton may sit five points above them in second place, but given the firepower the Gunners possess it is unlikely that it will stay that way. Theo Walcott’s return should give them a boost, and alongside Sanchez and Danny Welbeck he should add the extra pace that makes Wenger’s men a devilish prospect on the break as well as a team who monopolises the ball. But for the time being Sanchez is carrying others around him, something that needs to change.
QPR take hope from recent performances:
Maybe QPR’s performance against Liverpool against Loftus Road a couple of weeks back was slightly over-hyped. After all, they ended up conceding three goals to a side that seemed totally devoid of any attacking spark against Newcastle at the weekend and finding life after Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge distressing. QPR’s last two performances should please them more. Firstly against Aston Villa, where they finally managed to get Charlie Austin, Bobby Zamora and Eduardo Vargas functioning at once, with all three dovetailing splendidly to set up a 2-0 victory. Secondly, Rangers should be pleased with the way they worried the League’s clear best side at Stamford Bridge. A wonder goal from and Oscar and a slightly dodgy penalty won and converted by Eden Hazard proved the difference, but it was a much improved away performances from the visitors after early season drubbings against Manchester United and Tottenham. In Austin QPR also seemed to have found a striker capable of scoring at the highest level. His goal against Chelsea was his fifth in nine games this season, and when he has a partner playing alongside him he seems to come alive.