In the Manchester derby last weekend, City beat their cross-town rivals by four goals to one, but the result did not even tell the whole story of their dominance, as the visitors only got into the game after Manuel Pelligrini’s men had built an unassailable lead five minutes into the second half and then took their foot off the gas. Sergio Aguero gave the home crowd their first reason to cheer after sixteen minutes, when the he provided a clever finish to Alexsander Kolarov’s cross; then YaYa Toure doubled City’s advantage before the break by diverting a ball into the net that Alvaro Negredo had flicked on from a Samir Nasri corner. After the interval, United were unable to deal with two more balls swung into the box from the wing and Aguero and Nasri were both left with simple chances to extend City’s lead to 4-0 and leave David Moyes without an away derby victory in the Premiership, as he had failed to win at Liverpool during his 11 year tenure at Everton. With the result beyond doubt, the home side sat back and it was only then that the Red Devils – who were without the injured Robin Van Persie – showed even a glimmer of the football that saw them win the title last May. Nevertheless, by the final whistle the only thing they had to show for their effort was a Wayne Rooney free-kick that added only a consolation for the visitors and spoiled Joe Hart’s clean sheet. So far, United have beaten only Crystal Palace and Swansea, while they were held to a draw by Chelsea at Old Trafford and have suffered defeats at Anfield and the Etihad Stadium, an inauspicious start for Moyes in his unenviable task of attempting to replace Sir Alex Ferguson. However, a nice run of fixtures between now and mid-November gives him the chance to right the ship for the red half of Manchester – his team does not face any of the sides who finished in the top seven in the Premiership last season until the visit of Arsenal on November 10th. If United have not picked up close to maximum points from their fixtures between now and then, Moyes could find himself in a scrap to finish in the top four, rather than having any chance of retaining the league title for his new club.
Life is a lot happier in North London than at Old Trafford at the moment, as the top two spaces in the early league table are filled by the clubs from N5 and N17, with Arsenal and Tottenham both on 12 points from their opening 5 fixtures. The Gunners sit in first place on goal difference, after they defeated Mark Hughes’s Stoke side 3-1 at the Emirates last Sunday lunchtime, with the goals coming from Aaron Ramsey – who has already found the net seven times this season – and headers from set-pieces by the defenders, Per Metersacker and Baçary Sagna. Spurs had to work hard for their three points away at Cardiff the same day, as it was not until their 29th attempt of the match, which came inside injury time after the 90 minutes were up, that they finally broke through. When it did come, the goal was a thing of beauty, as Lewis Holtby found his fellow substitute, Erik Lamela free on the right wing and the Argentinian’s cross was met by Paulinho’s back-heel into the net – a late strike that may have seen harsh on the home side, who had been kept in the game by their goalkeeper, David Marshell’s excellent string of saves, but it was no more than the visitors deserved from their dominating display. It was particularly impressive to see how much energy the Tottenham players had going into the final stages of the match, willing themselves to victory despite having played on the previous Thursday night against Tromsø in the Europa League.
Indeed there was more to come from Spurs – and I know I have been waxing lyrical about them a lot lately – but they concluded a run of three games inside five days on Tuesday night when they took on Aston Villa in the Capital One Cup. Although only three of the starting line-up had also began the match at Cardiff – Jan Vertonghen, Paulinho and Kyle Walker – the strength of the squad was proven when Tottenham once again put in a commanding performance and progressed to the next round with a 4-0 victory. Jermain Defoe had opened the scoring with his head just before half-time, when he met a clever scooped pass by Holtby, who provided assists for three of the four goals, but there was a moment of worry for Spurs shortly after the interval. Vertonghen was caught out by a through ball and found himself trying to chase down Nicklas Helenius in the penalty area, but the Belgian lost his footing and – either deliberately or accidentally, I still am not 100% sure of which – pulled the Villa striker’s shorts down to around his knees, which should have led to a spot-kick but instead went unpunished and just impeded Helenius’s shot. Nevertheless, even without that incident the cracks in the Aston Villa team were very much on display and Tottenham fully deserved their victory, with the goals being rounded out by a second for Paulinho inside three days, another for Defoe, and Nacer Chadli’s first for the club. So far this campaign, the Waffles have played nine games in all competitions, won eight, lost just once (but crucially, that was away at Arsenal), scored twenty goals and conceded only one. They have been impressive, relentless, worked together as a team fantastically well and looked brilliant at times – yes you heard it, even this disenchanted, cynical Spurs fan is optimistic about his side’s chances for once – that just better not all come back to haunt me this Saturday when Chelsea pay a visit to White Hart Lane. Continue reading