STRAIGHT TALK – By STEVE MCMAHON: Roberto Mancini’s squad were heavily criticised after some lacklustre displays in the Premier League against Stoke and Arsenal. However, I thought they did very well against Fulham last weekend.
Although they had to rely on a last-gasp winner from Edin Dzeko to clinch the three points, City were impressive in all areas of the park and thoroughly deserved their win. As Mancini said, the team are getting back to their best and I fully expect them to sweep past Sunderland with ease tomorrow.
Dzeko has popped up to score some important winners in recent weeks, but it is unlikely the Bosnian will feature in the starting line-up against Sunderland, not while Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez are fit.
I believe Mancini will keep Dzeko on the bench and call upon the former Wolfsburg frontman only when the chips are down.
Having drawn with City and lost to Chelsea recently, Arsenal will be eager to get their domestic campaign back on track against West Ham. Much of the blame has been placed on the Gunners’ defence, but I do not see anything inherently wrong with Arsenal’s system.
One must not forget that City and Chelsea are both brimming with attacking quality, so the Gunners’ defence was never going to have it easy against them.
The goals Arsene Wenger’s squad conceded against Chelsea were a result of individual errors, though the Frenchman must get his players to defend better from set pieces, especially since they’ll be playing the Hammers next.
Any team put out by Sam Allardyce will be well-honed in attacking set pieces as the Englishman emphasises on that area during training.
With the Arsenal defence susceptible to leaking goals during set-plays recently and Andy Carroll’s impending return to full fitness, the Hammers might prove to be lethal from deadball deliveries.
Meanwhile, Wenger will look to fullbacks Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs to come up in support of the Gunners’ attack.
I have always held Jenkinson in high regard, and his recent performances have proved me right.
The young rightback may have suffered a poor start to his career, but he appears to be growing in confidence and looks at home in the Arsenal starting line-up.
Unlike Arsenal, Manchester United’s fullbacks are a source of concern for manager Alex Ferguson. The loss of Nemanja Vidic to injury appears to be the biggest blow to the team’s campaign so far, but the defensive performances put on by Rafael and Patrice Evra have been equally appalling.
The duo were less than inspiring against CFR Cluj recently, and I believe they will continue costing the squad valuable points unless they improve on their displays.
The Red Devils face Newcastle this weekend, and beating the Magpies at home will not be an easy feat. Alan Pardew’s men have not gotten off to a notable start this season, but I expect Newcastle to provide a challenge for United, especially in midfield where they are blessed with the physical strength and talents of Cheick Tiote, Yohan Cabaye and Gael Bigirimana.
Demba Ba is in superb goalscoring form and will also look to capitalise on any errors committed by the United defence.
Former Liverpool and England international Steve McMahon is a football expert with ESPN. Catch him on The Verdict at 8pm and on ESPN’s coverage of the English Premier League.
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