Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's Grim Up North

So the saying goes and so it was with a double Mancunian disaster in the Champions League last night as the Premiership's top two crashed out in the group stages.

For City, it is not an unmitigated disaster as their priority this year is almost certainly securing the Premiership title for the first time since the wheel was invented. The biggest annoyance for them will be falling into the Europa League and the Thursday nights followed by Sunday fixtures that it brings which is less than ideal when chasing the title. They will however draw comfort from the fact that the red half of the city will be enduring Thursdays in Bucharest also.

For United however it is a huge blow. They are a club that associate themselves (overly so we would add) hugely with the Champions League and there has always been the suspicion that this is done so to paper over their inferior record in the competition to the true legends such as Real, Milan and Liverpool.

Writing off Manchester United under Ferguson has always been an entirely silly thing to do and there will surely be a response from the players. The question however with Manchester United at the moment is regarding the true quality of their personnel.

After their chastening defeat to Barca in last year's final, Ferguson embarked on a summer spending spree and there is no doubt that the squad has been enhanced and looks far fresher. The reality is however that not one of the players purchased in the Summer would get into the Barcelona first team and in that respect they are no closer to them.

Ferguson has proved a master of ushering out one great team and bringing in another, he for instance would not have allowed the likes of Terry, Lampard, Drogba and Ashley Cole to all grow old together without first class replacements being weaned in to the team gradually. He has however failed to replace the central midfield axis of Scholes and Keane in any remotely adequate way and it is the lack of quality in the centre of the park that is the problem for United.

The reality of the focus for ManYoo this season has in any case been stopping City's apparent march to the domestic title. Ferguson would hate to see his reign come to an end with either City or Liverpool on top of the pile and there is a very real possibility of that happening in Citys' case as they have the financial muscle to dominate almost at will if they so wish - financial fair play aside.

Another huge problem for United earlier this season had been their defence with De Gea coming in for all sorts of bombardments without an adequate defensive shield in front of him. The superb Nemanda Vidic had done much to remedy that since his return to the side. His injury last night looks to be a serious one and if so could have serious ramifications for his team's title challenge.

Going out of the CL is a major blow to United and not least in financial terms as there are huge monetary benefits in remaining in the competition until the latter stages. Whatever Mancini and Ferguson might both have to say about the Europa League, the reality is either manager would be happy to get knocked out at the first possible opportunity. Suddenly the FA Cup third round tie has taken on new meaning and importance - No Nonsense.