Manchester City’s 6-1 demolition of Manchester United, suggests that a regime change in the English Premier League (EPL) is in the offing. With a little help from an Abu Dhabi businessman, the downtrodden have shaken off their chains. Sir Alex Ferguson’s noisy neighbours could become the lords of the manor, if they maintain their current form and self-belief.
With eight wins and a draw, Manchester City are top of the table. Unlike last season their approach is not defensive as coach Roberto Mancini has allowed his team to play creative attacking football. Most of their victories have been decisive, as they have found the net an incredible 33 times at an average of 3.6 goals per game. Their strikers Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko are in the top-five of the scoring charts.
The £600 million investment by Sheikh Mansour has produced a bulldozer side that is destroying opposition in the Premier League. Mancini deserves credit for building depth in the squad, two quality players for each position (strikers Mario Balotelli and Dzeko and defensive midfielders Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry). Also the phasing out of unwanted players like Carlos Tevez has improved the team-spirit in the squad.
It is not just the margin of victory but Manchester City’s emphatic display that has suddenly exposed frailties in ranks of the reigning champions, a fragile defence and ineffective midfield. Even mighty Barcelona did not outclass Manchester United so comprehensively in the 2008-09 and 2010-11 UEFA Champions league finals. Suddenly the aura of invincibility that Ferguson’s team possessed at least in England has vanished.
The reason for the debacle is not just Manchester City’s incredible display but the decline in form of several Manchester United players. Left back Patrice Evra has slowed down and gets exposed by the pace of speedy players like overlapping right back Micah Richards or wide midfielder James Milner. Injury prone central defender Rio Ferdinand showed lack of
commitment. The other central defender Johnny Evans was also found wanting. Without the towering presence of the injured Nemanjia Vidic Manchester United’s back four looks vulnerable.
Ferguson’s problems are even more acute in midfield. With the retirement of Paul Scholes, Manchester United lacks a midfielder who can regularly make defence splitting visionary passes. Nani was supposed to fill this void but he is inconsistent. In the winter transfer season Ferguson must buy a creative midfielder like Luka Modric or Wesley Snjeider who can split defences with through passes otherwise Manchester United will continue to struggle against quality opposition.
In the debacle at Old Trafford, Manchester United lost the battle in midfield. Anderson, Nani and Darren Fletcher despite their industry could not cope with the probing runs, linking play and subtle passing of David Silva, Milner and Yaya Toure. Their star player Wayne Rooney had to frequently fall deep to get possession of the ball.
During his 25 year stay at Old Trafford, Ferguson has been ruthless in transferring players who either did not show improvement (like defenders Wes Brown and John O’ Shea) or those who were going downhill(Gary Neville and Nicky Butt). The 70 year-old Scottish manager must juggle his team soon otherwise crises time at Old Trafford looms large.