There has been much speculation prior to the start of the 2011/12 season as to who will emerge as the title contenders. With Manchester United being reigning champions and improving their squad in the summer, it appeared that they were always going to be considered favourites for the title. But out of the remaining teams including Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal, Manchester City appear to have announced themselves as the main initial rivals to United.
Obviously a lot can change between now and the final few matches of the season, but for me the two teams in Manchester seem to be the ones who really have signalled their intentions to fight it out ’til the end. Ever since the hotly contested community shield, which went in favour of the reds after a 3 goal comeback, it was clear that both teams had quality and commitment in their squad and were more than ready to battle it out against the top teams. They appear to both have acquired players necessary to fill gaps in their squad, albeit small gaps in City’s case. There were questions over United’s midfield, with the retirement of Paul Scholes, but there is plenty of backup and to me Tom Cleverly seems to be more than capable of stepping up.
If you contrast this with the squads of Arsenal and Chelsea, you would have to say that City and United are in a stronger position, with the London clubs both reportedly looking to bring in new additions. Although Chelsea gained three points against West Brom on the weekend and their team on paper looks as strong, if not stronger than last season, the performances so far haven’t set the world alight.
If anything, they highlight that some investment in the midfield area could do them a lot of good. Liverpool have bought in the most players of any of the big clubs, and gained a very good away win at Arsenal on Sunday. However they were up against a weakened Gunners side who were a man down when Liverpool scored the goals. I still wonder whether the Liverpool squad have the talent and enough time together on the pitch to challenge for the title this season.
If you look at how Manchester City have set themselves up for the season, it looks ominous for the other clubs around them, not just because of the money they spent on Sergio Aguero for example, but their strength in depth. The main issue that people tended to point out last season was whether the City team could ‘gel’ and work together as a unit. However, to me it seems to be becoming ever more clear that Mancini’s team can create a strong understanding and bond on the pitch this season.
Players such as Micah Richards and Edin Dzeko have stepped it up a gear and put in very good performances, with good link-up play and a willing attitude to work with players around them on the pitch. Also, the way that Silva moves around space and always looks for the short simple passes, bringing others into the game, looks like such a useful tool for Man City. Milner and Barry appear more involved and pro-active in their play as well which is a great sign of intent.
Manchester United look just as proficient, seemingly playing the same way whoever they play against. With the quality of the league appearing to be high this year and no real easy points, particularly away from home, United are in a good position because even in the early stages they appear to be able to maintain consistency. As seen against Spurs this week, even with an almost totally different back line, they don’t falter or lack confidence. Also, players like Ashley Young and Anderson have been given a chance to shine and slot into the first team with ease. I think that where the difference will be this season between the teams at the top of the table is the consistency factor of getting results from solid performances every week, without dropping too many points to mid table teams. United and City appear to have created the best foundations so far to achieve this continuous run of form necessary.
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