Pieces falling into place for Ferguson and Manchester United
Published: 11.11.12 / Written by: David Gold
Sir Alex Ferguson will have enjoyed a particularly pleasant Saturday, given the extent to which the Premier League table turned in his teamís favour.
Not only did Manchester United beat one of their main title rivals, Arsenal, but they also saw every single one of the other contenders drop points. Chelsea were held 1-1 by Swansea and Manchester City 0-0 by West Ham. Tottenham, an outside contender, lost 1-0 at home to Wigan, while even Everton failed to continue their good form with a 2-2 draw at Fulham.
The dramatic turn in fortunes now makes United firm title favourites. But it is not just that they had a good weekend. It was the way in which they performed that makes them such strong favourites now. They have been the best team in the Premier League so far this season. Chelsea have entertained in bursts but have looked questionable defensively at times and still remain a work in progress. They have often enjoyed good early season form only for it to fizzle away in the winter.
Manchester City look dour. They are labouring through games, much in the same way that Arsenal have been over the last month. Their defence is a bit tighter, but their attacking potential has diminished as well. Roberto Mancini seems in a permanent battle, with some players reportedly resisting some of his methods, while his constant tinkering can be a problem. The decision to rest his best forward, Sergio Aguero, in favour of Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko and Carlos Tevez at the weekend was a little strange to put it mildly.
City just do not look like a team as good as the one which won the league last season. So far, United look to be on a level above their rivals. Their defence is still weak and is a weakness opponents can exploit, but Fergusonís team are undoubtedly stronger than all of their key rivals. They have more firepower and options, and even whilst they supposedly struggle they have cruised to the top of the table. In the big games this season, they have been ominous. They were lucky to beat Liverpool but then were magnificent at Newcastle, brilliant at Chelsea and ruthlessly took apart Arsenal. It is hard to see any team with the capabilities at this moment to defeat them.
Ferguson is the past master of how to manage a title challenge anyway. His teams are rarely fast starters, tending to take a few games to get into gear, whilst there is always talk of the problems they have around the start of the campaign. But once October arrives they are usually still hanging in there at least, and by the turn of the year they are never far from the title equation. A title race without United has become a rarity, and as each season passes it seems even less likely.
They must be particularly comfortable this year. With rivals in disarray and transition, United are finding that they are not just keeping pace, but are ahead of the pack without even having to do that much. If the season continues the way it starts, then United will cruise to the title this year without so much as a challenge from their rivals.