El Cashico – When Attack Meets Defense and Money Speaks

Arsene Wenger and his army have topped the Premier League for a considerable number of months, but the bookies still fancy Manchester City or Chelsea to grab the title. This shows the importance attached to today’s fixture: the league’s meanest attack coming against the tidiest defense, in a tale where money (in the form of world class players) speaks.

With Arsenal overthrowing City at the summit of the league after their victory against Crystal Palace on Sunday, the onus is on either of the cash-loaded clubs to work their way up. The home team’s last away hammering of Tottenham has done well to remind Mourinho’s youngsters just how much ruthless they can be. In this fixture now generally dubbed as El Cashico, a win, loss or draw for either club might just shift the advantage to any of the current top three teams. With the clubs boasting huge talents – Manchester City’s wage bill for 2012/2013 was £202 million while Chelsea’s was £173 million – expect this game to be a cracker.

Manchester City

Pellegrini’s side has been in imperious form at home this season. They’re enjoying the scintillating home form that has previously been the trademark of their red neighbour. The Etihad is now a fortress and does not bode well for visiting teams – they boast an 100 percent record this season! Perhaps the scariest part of this record is that they have scored a whooping 42 goals at home and conceded just 8 goals. In total this term, they have scored 66 goals and are well on course to break the goals record created by today’s opponent, Chelsea. Their lethal attack has placed three of their players in the top 10 highest goalscorers – the most of any team. In January alone, they scored 35 goals against as many teams they faced. The team has averaged 325 chances created and 86 percent pass completion, meaning Mourinho’s midfield would have to work harder to get something from this game. With the likes of Fernandinho and the impeccable Yaya Toure sure to start today, it becomes all the more an uphill task for Chelsea. Manchester City are not afraid to bang the goals in past big teams, as Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham can testify. A series of slow shaky away performances have been replaced with recent superb performances and if City can keep this up, the sky is the limit. The big stat in City’s favour is that they have won their last four (4) home league fixtures against Chelsea.

Chelsea

If there is one team that can alter Manchester City’s domineering run, it is Chelsea. Statistically, Chelsea boasts the best defense in the league as they have conceded just 20 goals all season (although they’re yet to taste Manchester City at Etihad – as Arsenal has already done). The central defensive pairing of Gary Cahill and the experienced John Terry has been resolute. Captain John Terry has rolled back the years and his sidekicks at the full back are sizzling as well – enter Ivanovic and Azpilicueta. They have ensured Chelsea has kept three consecutive away clean sheets and this is a big bonus going into this game. Also, they have conceded just three goals since December 7 and have racked up nine clean sheets this season. Mourinho is well known for his defensive rigidity and that is exactly what he is building. Despite today’s game being an ‘Attack vs Defense’ game, the bulk of the game will stem from the midfield. The London team has a 52 percent average duel success and this shows they can break opposition attacks well; this is where Nemanja Matic and Ramires come in play. Not to be undone by their opponent, Chelsea boasts an 83 percent pass success rate which is slightly less than City’s. In addition, Eden Hazard is a ‘foul-magnet’, getting fouled 66 times, he is the most fouled player in the league and with City’s relatively higher foul rate, Chelsea can rely on free kicks to help their cause. This is one of the dimensions of Chelsea’s new style of play – by getting the ball more to Hazard to dribble or draw foul. With just one defeat in the previous 13 League outings and with the 39 shots they accrued against West Ham, Chelsea are looking a strong team, even without a proper striker.

This is going to be one tough game to predict, and even the bookies are not sure the right odds to place. With money, both teams boast world class players and coaches. On one side, City looks destined to beat Chelsea. On the other side, Mourinho’s stubbornness and shrewdness coupled with his team’s form tilts the balance to his favour. Perhaps, this might be the time for Pellegrini to finally beat Mourinho only the second time, or for Mourinho to extend his win run against the Chilean.

MANCHESTER UNITED WILL NOT FINISH WELL UNLESS…….

Rome was never built in a day, not even a year! With the departure of arguably the greatest manger ever, having served for close to three decades, we don’t expect his replacement to have an easy ride. David Moyes was hand-picked by Sir Ferguson himself; perhaps because the Sir sees Moyes as a younger version of himself. Manchester United is a great brand and club and the position of the manager is a very grave one. With the Sir Ferguson continuity over the years terminated, it should be accepted that a miracle cannot just happen overnight. Moyes has all the stats stacked against him but he is still in a relatively safe zone. To avoid a colossal fall and return to being among the ‘elites’ as quick as possible, Manchester United must:

Reinforce Midfield With World Class Players
The strength of this decade’s all-conquering Barcelona lies in their scintillating midfield build up. This isn’t to imply that all teams must apply tiki-taka; Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal boast arguably the strongest midfield in the Premier League, and unsurprisingly are in the top three. Take Arsenal for example, the apparently missing piece of their jigsaw was Mesut Özil. The German has injected life and vigor to the team, even though Wenger already had other talented midfielders. The same can be said about Yaya Toure plus Fernandinho and Oscar plus Ramires in City and Chelsea respectively. These gifted players offer protection as well as production. The point isn’t that one must have Brazilian midfielders to excel, but that a world class team needs world class midfielders, and Manchester United needs at least two of them! The United midfield has offered only seven goals in as many games and only four assists. Yaya Toure alone has 10 goals to his name and his midfield counterparts have helped the team provide 20 goals; five times that of United!

The good news for Moyes is that he has been given financial backing, meaning he can delve into the market and buy a creative midfielder and a defensive one. Against Everton, United were flat, as Barry, Pienaar and Barkley ran the show, giving room for both their full backs to inflict damage. This is supposed to be United’s play: run the show from the midfield and create room for wingers and full backs to whip those dangerous balls in the opponents’ danger areas. Manchester United have the weakest midfield of all the top six or seven teams. Sir Ferguson’s experience and aura was the winning factor last season, working with those midfielders and wingers. Cleverly is not playing as we expect from a Paul Scholes’ protege, maybe he needs more time. Carrick and Fletcher simply cannot cope with the immense pace of the EPL week in, week out. Anderson is more a liability than an asset. Giggs needs to realise his time is up and hang up his boots. Kagawa has not made the most of the little playing time he was given. Valencia and Young are struggling to outperform the upcoming but hugely talented Adnan Janujaz.

Moyes is right in his pursuit of Cesc Fabregas. He is a player that will pick the right pass almost every time and supports attack superbly. He is dangerous at set pieces and has that Spanish flair about him. If Janujaz and Rooney want more of the ball, Cesc is the man. With the knowledge that Moyes has a knack for caution in the transfer market and Barcelona’s likely resistance, options as Marco Reus, Adam Lallana and Joao Moutinho are super replacements. Looking at Özil’s impact at Arsenal, we can see what a world class midfielder can do.

Cesc Fabregas could be the missing piece in Moyes' jigsaw

Cesc Fabregas could be the missing piece in Moyes’ jigsaw

To protect the frail back four, a defensive midfielder is needed. Players as Ikay Gundogan and Nemanja Matic can hold unto the ball, build play from behind and give that ultimate protection to the back four. Another approach would be to give more game time to their fourth most expensive signing, Marouane Fellaini. On a very good day, the Belgium is a football beast and can best the like of Yaya Toure offensively and defensively. Money cannot buy the title, but it can buy you players that can win something.

Organise the Defense
Moyes is yet to decide on a suitable back four, even at this later stage of the season. More painful is that his defenders are either in decline or aren’t initially up to par. Although they are shipping in a handful of goals, they are not effectively doing their defensive tasks. The once impenetrable pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand departed with the retirement of Sir Alex. The most faithful United fan will admit that Evra is in decline. He gets exposed every now and then and doesn’t whip in those dangerous balls as he used to. Perhaps he needs competition or to be replaced. In either case, players as Leighton Baines and Fabio Coentrao are suitable candidates. The centre two needs to be more reliable, as they are either inefficient or injury-prone. Passing the chance to sign Joleon Lescott might prove a loss for Moyes. Thomas Vermaelen is a decent alternative and can be also provide the required danger from set-pieces. Whatever is Moyes’ decision, he has to act fast and pick a suitable back four before it gets too late.

Decide on Strong Formation
David Moyes has alternated irregularly between the classic United 4-4-2 (and it’s variations) and 4-2-3-1. Moyes needs to pick a formation that will suit his proposed playing style and players at his disposal. He alone knows the best formation for the team as he picks the team himself. At the end of this January transfer business, Moyes should be expected to pick a suitable formation for whatever players he has. A good coach is one that is fearless and adventurous, making important decisions (Rio Ferdinand admitted that Moyes usually waited two hours to kick off before deciding on his lineup). Moyes should take special time out in training sessions and in games to observe and experiment formations.

Keep Wayne Rooney
Although it looks unlikely that Manchester United will lose their season’s stand out performer this January, this possibility should not be written off. With the likes of Chelsea, Real Madrid and PSG snooping around, seeing Rooney out of Manchester is becoming more a possibility than seeing him in there. All aforementioned clubs are cash loaded and can woo Rooney away, with guarantee of a top four finish at the end of the season. Take Rooney’s goals and assists away from United and they would be somewhere 10th or 12th on the log. His dynamic play injects life into United and improves Welbeck’s play (Welbeck is the standout recognized striker in the team this term). A top team that boasts the biggest talent in England should keep such talent, if they want to remain revered.

Support David Moyes
To be fair, look at the players in the clubs in top six or seven. They have either amazing individual players or fantastic world class coaches or a combination of both. This is where fans should be rational and accept that Moyes is filling a very big shoe. He needs time to adjust to a massive club with expectations of winning trophies. Even the adored Sir Alex took a while before winning any trophy for Manchester United. Fast forward years of experience later and he singlehandedly picked David Moyes obviously after scrutiny, and his decision should be respected. In his last speech at Old Trafford, he begged the fans to ‘stick by your new manager’ as even he knew it was not going to be a bumper ride.

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