Monday 21 August 2017 / 06:53 AM

An Unfamiliar Battle In Manchester

Two wins for the City and United, but things still aren’t quite right in Manchester.

Manchester City and Manchester United both recorded victories on Saturday as they sought to get their Premier League campaigns back on track. Three points for each side will have done them the world of good after a couple of weeks of media scrutiny following some seriously underwhelming results.

However, despite the 3-1 win for City against Everton, and United’s 2-1 victory over Sunderland, neither side should be altogether happy with their performance, with a number of question marks still hanging over both Pellegrini and Moyes’ troops.

Let’s start with City. Going forward, the Citizens were potent and exciting, and their three goals against a top quality side like Everton indicate that Pellegrini’s forward options are more than satisfactory (although the shocking ease with which Pablo Zabaleta hit the deck to win a penalty left a very sour taste in one’s mouth). However it’s at the back that City’s performance left a lot to be desired.

Following on from City’s shambolic defensive performance against Bayern during the week, Manuel Pellegrini made three changes to his back four, and yet in the first half, Everton had the City defence at sixes and sevens as Romelu Lukaku made life extremely difficult for City’s expensively assembled enforcers.

Luckily for City, after a bright opening period, Everton were not able to attack with the same tenacity in the second half, and consequently City were able to cruise to what was in the end a comfortable victory. However, the first half should be a worry for Pellegrini, as City simply failed to cope with the attacking triumvirate of Lukaku, Barkley and Baines. Players like Kompany and Lescott – who are usually reliable – just didn’t look at the races, and whatever the problem is, Pellegrini must get to the bottom of it sooner rather than later.

If we’re totally honest, Pellegrini’s start at the Etihad has been at best underwhelming and at worse disappointing. He did record a fantastic win over United, but he also presided over losses against Cardiff and Aston Villa as well as sending out his team to experience a real Munich thrashing. Despite his inexperience when it comes to the Premier League, the appointment of Pellegrini was hailed as a masterstroke by many, but the jury on the Chilean is still very much out, and with City’s notoriously impatient owners waiting behind the scenes, Pellegrini will be hoping that his side can sort out their defensive jitters during the International break.

If there was a man who needed a win in the Premier League more than Manuel Pellegrini, it was undoubtedly David Moyes. United have been thoroughly underwhelming so far this season, and last week’s shock loss to West Brom resulted an uncomfortable past 7 days for the United boss. They were hosted by bottom-club Sunderland on Saturday, and anything less than a win would have been diabolical for the Red Devils.

In the end they got the win they needed, but what was shocking from a neutral’s point of view was how poor they were in the first half. After their loss to the Baggies and lacklustre performance in Europe on Wednesday, you would think that Moyes would be looking to set his side up to hit the ground running at the Stadium of Light. Whether or not that’s what he intended we don’t know; but what we do know is that in the first half at Sunderland, United were inspid, uninspiring and almost totally lifeless. Robin van Persie was anonymous, Wayne Rooney’s first touch was abysmal and United were totally lacking a presence in the centre of midfield.

With Adnan Janujaz and Luis Nani on the field, Moyes’ plan seemed to be to get the ball wide and fizz crosses into the box, but without a midfield provider, they simply weren’t able to get the ball into the right areas. Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick resumed their partnership in midfield following the dropping of £27m signing Marouane Fellaini, but both the Englishmen sat far too deep to really influence proceedings. A knock on result of this was that Wayne Rooney kept coming deep to get the ball, but this only served to make van Persie even more isolated, as Rooney had one of his average nights.

Of course, United did win the game in the end, but ultimately this was only courtesy of two sublime goals from 18-year old Adnan Janujaz. The young Belgian really does look like a fantastic prospect, and Moyes will be highly grateful to the youthful winger for sparing his blushes. Before Janujaz’s intervention, it very much looked like Sunderland were the better side, and indeed could count themselves unlucky not to double their lead after Emanuele Giaccherini was thwarted by an out of this world save from David de Gea.

Despite the three points, United did not play particularly well, and Moyes must surely look to understand why his team looked so painfully average in the first 45 minutes. The dropping of Marouane Fellaini indicates that Moyes is perhaps unconvinced that Fellaini is the right man to sort out his midfield woes, and until those woes are addressed, United are likely to continue to be found wanting against the good sides. The retirement of Paul Scholes has left a big hole in United’s midfield, and without a natural driving midfielder in the ilk of Moussa Dembele or Yaya Toure, that hole is unlikely to be filled.

The Premier League now takes a break for the international fixtures, and Moyes will be delighted to have eased some of the pressure on him and his team before the break. The Scot now needs to focus on setting up his team to win, as otherwise he could find the pressure return sooner than he would like.

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About the author

Seb Greenwood

CBS’s longest-serving contributor, Englishman Seb is our leading football correspondent, pulling no punches with his opinions on the Premier League and the international scene.

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