A friend picked the first six winners in a seven team accumulator and the last leg was Chelsea to beat Manchester United. As millions of fans around the world celebrated Robin Van Persie’s goal in the fourth minute of injury time my mate was feeling devastated. In the context of United’s season it was a huge goal and they can maintain the momentum by avoiding defeat against Manchester City on Sunday.
City have conceded twice in each of their last three matches and the form of Vincent Kompany is a major concern. He seems to be struggling to assert himself on forwards as he has done in the past and maybe his exertions with Belgium in the World Cup are taking their toll. The once imperious Yaya Toure has also been relatively ineffectual after being virtually unplayable last season and could also be suffering a World Cup hangover.
City won the Capital One Cup last season but he holders were knocked out by Newcastle this week. Manager Manuel Pellegrini is worried about his side’s form and his problems worsened with some injury issues against the Geordies. David Silva has maintained form during the mini slump but he is doubtful for the derby due to a knee injury. Toure is also not a definite starter and these two players will be badly missed.
The league champions have had a difficult week and this is the first major crisis during the Pellegrini era. They had a disappointing draw in the Champions League at CSKA Moscow and were average in defeat at West Ham last weekend. Pellegrini played a strong side against Newcastle but his team were outfought and outplayed in key areas. The visitors to the Etihad had just 29.8 % of the possession but one more shot on target than their opponents.
City arguably have a stronger squad than last season when they won the league for the second time in three years. However, they have already dropped as many points at home as throughout the whole of last season. Last week’s defeat at Upton Park followed a poor display in Europe. A fit and in-form Sergio Aguero cannot totally compensate for deficiencies in other areas of the pitch.
Ahead of this weekend’s fixtures City are five points behind Chelsea having played the same number of matches. If City drop two points against United Chelsea will most probably be seven points clear as they are playing Queens Park Rangers at home.
Chelsea’s price to remain unbeaten in the league this season has dropped in the last few days. It seems ridiculous to be contemplating a perfect set of fixtures after just nine matches but Chelsea are by some distance the best team in the league.
Chelsea lost only one league game in 2004-05 and that is the fewest number of defeats for the champions in the last ten years. City had six defeats last time and were still champions which suggests Jose Mourinho has built an exceptional squad. In Mourinho’s four seasons following a full first campaign he has at the very least won the domestic championship. When Chelsea first won the title under him they recorded 20 wins in their opening 22 matches.
The lack of a striker was seen as a major issue but there can be no complaints on that front last summer with Diego Costa arriving from Atletico Madrid and Blues legend Didier Drogba returning to the club. Drogba was exceptional against Manchester United last Sunday and scored again in the Capital Cup match with Shrewsbury. Costa is expected to play against Rangers after recovering from a virus and some niggling injuries.
United’s dip in form can be expected but it was more like a Fergie team that equalised against Chelsea in the last few seconds at Old Trafford. However, the defence lacks any genuine elite players like Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Perhaps Sir Alex anticipated their departure and decided to retire at just the right time. David Moyes was not the right replacement but he had to deal with a difficult situation in that three quarters of the side’s regular back four left the club at the same time.
The midfield until recently was a mix of out-of-form players and unfit and untested squad members. Marouane Fellani played well against Chelsea and finally looked like the player that excelled at Everton. He has now scored his first goal for the club and did a fine job of restricting the influence of Cesc Fabreagas in the match against Chelsea. Before scoring against West Brom Fellaini had scored more goals for Belgium in the World Cup than in his first full season at United.
After nine league games last season Moyes had United in eighth place with 14 points after spending less than £30 million. Their early set of fixtures included matches against Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool. After the same number of fixtures with Louis Van Gaal in charge United are again in eighth place but have won a point less. That fact is despite spending £182m last summer and having played all three promoted sides and just one of last season’s top four.
City have scored in every home game this season and United have scored eight goals in four matches on the road. The home side rarely fail to score at their own stadium so the recent statistics suggest both teams to score. Edin Dzeko has scored seven goals in eight Manchester derbies so looks a good bet to score at any time in a high scoring draw which will make Chelsea bigger favourites to win the league.