Although the result was somewhat closer than many feared, there was something inevitable about a City win in the Manchester derby on Sunday. At the risk of reiterating something often iterated, City are now a much, much better side than Man Utd and should now be used to being favourites in this fixture.
The game itself illustrated this point, with City dominating the contest but only emerging as 1-0 winners. Let’s take a look at some of the talking points:
Chris Smalling is a liability
Whilst this isn’t a massively surprising statement, it is still one that needs to be uttered. There were plenty of people who questioned United’s decision to spend £15 million on the defender in 2010, but precious few of those could have predicted that Smalling would barely have improved in four years at Old Trafford.
In a tight game, where United were up against it, Smalling let his side down with two silly yellow cards. Considering the huge sums that United have invested in the last few years it seems inexplicable that he is still being considered even as a back-up to the United first team.
United now used to being underdogs
Probably the most depressing thing for United fans is that there seemed to be no optimism from the red half of Manchester surrounding this fixture. Despite having invested colossal amounts of money, United are still a long, long way behind this City side; and considering that it is less than two years since Sir Alex Ferguson departed after winning the league by 11 points, the loss of confidence, self-belief and performance level is utterly staggering.
Is it time for technology?
As City had three legitimate penalty appeals waved away by referee Michael Oliver, the technology debate is alive and well once again. We must first consider the official’s competence, which has to be in question after three poor decisions. But ultimately, we have to wonder whether it might be time for us to make life a little bit easier for the officials by giving them an opportunity to review contentious incidents on a big screen before making a decision. This system has worked successfully in rugby union, doesn’t slow the game down and enables referees to make the right decision more often. In short, it’s time.
City aren’t good enough
In truth, this United side was there for the taking, and despite this, City made heavy work of what should have been a routine win. This will definitely concern Pellegrini, and the reality is that right now, City are several levels below a Chelsea side that seems destined to romp to a straightforward title win.
For Pellegrini, failure to retain the Premier League crown could prove fatal. Unless City can improve their European performances and have a meaningful run in the Champions League, Pellegrini’s tenure is likely to be over next summer.
United’s worst start for 28 years
And so Louis van Gaal’s side continues to perform well below what one might expect given the significant outlay invested in the summer. Last season I made it absolutely clear that David Moyes was underperforming and out of his depth at Old Trafford, but so far I have seen nothing that tells me Louis van Gaal should not be tarred with the same brush.
The Dutchman can preach transition all he wants, but the reality is that when you spend an exorbitant amount of money on players, languishing in 10th – and closer to the bottom of the league than the top – you kiss goodbye to extenuating circumstances. United must improve, and fast. An absence from European football can be tolerated for one season; a second season would be unthinkable.