All week the football pundits/ex players/script writers and men down the pub had been plotting and predicting the outcome, with the verdict split between a stuttering Manchester City going to be caught out by their rivals expensively assembled attack or the reigning champions running riot amongst a United defence that had very few actual defenders in it.
Reality kicked in and for 90 minutes at the Etihad neither happened apart from a mixture of penalty appeals, haranguing the referee, reshuffling of defences and unanimously agreeing with Louis Van Gaal that Chris Smalling is 'stupid'.
Manchester United are quite simply not blessed with defenders in any form at the moment. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are yet to indicate that they will ever come close to the performances that Ferdinand and Vidic were churning out in their pomp.
So after Smalling conspired to pick up two bookings within the opening forty minutes and summer signing Rojo was stretchered off injured the defence featured very few people that declare themselves as defenders on their CV. Valencia, Carrick, McNair and Shaw lined up together against last season’s top goal scorers but the game didn’t spring into life. Instead it was decided by the one strike by Aguero who finished calmly from Clichy’s cross.
THE THREE MONTH JUDGEMENT REPORT
Following a successful World Cup with Holland and an enjoyable pre-season campaign around the world for United, everything was looking rosy for Louis Van Gaal so he commented that he should be judged after three months. When this deadline was looming on the horizon and the outlook not quite as positive he realised this was a silly idea. Too Late Louis, we are still judging...
SO THEN, MANCHESTER UNITED...
The summer clearout was followed by the transfer window spending spree where nearly every high profile footballer was linked with the club and a good deal of them signed up. A strike force of Rooney, Van Persie and Falcao would be envied by the majority of clubs but a defence that wasn’t strengthened leaving the previously mentioned weaknesses has simply not been good enough.
The table shows three wins, four draws and three losses and this cannot be classed as a good return, especially when it has been Swansea, Leicester and their noisy neighbours that have inflicted those defeats. David Moyes was given a tough set of fixtures to start his reign in the Old Trafford hot seat but Van Gaal was perceived to have had a more gentle start yet they find themselves having the worst start since 1986-7. Throw in a League Cup hammering from footballing superpower MK Dons and very few stats are painting the three months in a good light.
Injuries have definitely been a factor in hampering progress but if this was a school report the Red side of Manchester would be lucky to get away with a must try harder. C+
Basking in the glory of last season’s title victory, which was followed by an efficient dip into the summer transfer market and Manchester City started the campaign favourites with the bookies.
One year ago the Manchester City goal scoring juggernaut was blowing away everything in their sight, this year it has been a slightly different story. In patches it has been the usual class shining through with dominant displays but these have been intersected with lacklustre defeats to Stoke and West Ham. The weekend’s fourth successive derby victory has ensured that undue panic has not spread around the team but a run of consistent form is needed to keep pace with Chelsea.
The Pellegrini era was brought in with talk of five trophies in five years and whilst well on track after a successful opening season, the pressure is on for consistent success year on year in the cup competitions. Relinquishing the League Cup at the hands of a Newcastle United second string and failing to pick up much needed wins in the Champions League will always be judged as not part of the holistic master plan.
When expectations and standards are set high anything less will never seem good enough but with strength in depth and indications that their form will only get better City can be happy with their start. B+
With progression out of Europe seeming a near impossible task and a Premiership campaign which realistically only seems to harbour aims of a top six finish, it is in the LV Cup that Sale seem to have their most realistic shot at silverware this year.
The competition which consists of the twelve English Premiership teams and four Welsh regional sides has struggled to be taken seriously in recent years with teams using it as a chance to field their youth or fringe players, but as we all know 'you don’t win anything with kids'.
It also boasts a qualification system more complex than a Virgin Galactic launch sequence. Teams are placed into four groups, you never see the other teams in your group, group one only ever plays group four and group two to play group three. So Sale (group two) would face Wasps (group three) at home in their opening fixture. Still following? Nope us neither.
Wasps fielded a more youthful team than Sale who had a blend of academy graduates and weathered veterans but whilst international quality was low the excitement level was high. In a 61 point thriller with the lead changing hands throughout Sale finished on top with a four try bonus point to show for it. Young lock Josh Beaumont was singled out for praise from coach Steve Diamond and elsewhere there was relief to see captain Dan Braid come through unscathed in what was only his second start of the season.
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