Tuesday Team Talk: Manchester City and United bring in New Year with defeats

By Jamie Dickenson

The aim for both Manchester United and Manchester City in 2012 is simple. Win the Premiership title.

Finish top of the league come May, earning the bragging rights as the best team in the land, whilst getting one over your bitter local rivals.

Both teams will want to go as far as they can in the Europa League, and their F.A. Cup clash on Sunday represents another chance of silverware this season. City also retain a vested interest in the Carling Cup.

However, it is the title that Manchester City crave to achieve for the first time since 1968, the same trophy which United are desperate to keep out of the clutches of their bitter local rivals, for so long in the shadows of the Red Devils’ success.

Even so, if either side are to end up as divisional champions they will want to put this weekend’s performances behind them, as the first and second placed sides in the league both dropped three points against lesser opposition.

For United, their defeat was as surprising as it was shambolic. Returning striker Dimitar Berbatov gave away an early penalty, converted by Yakubu to give Blackburn the lead on 16 minutes.

The Nigerian made it 2-0 to the visitors shortly after half-time with a prodded finish from a tight angle, after waltzing through a dazed United defence.

Berbatov made amends for his first-half mishap with two well taken goals to bring the sides level, however there was no fairy-tale finish for the home side, who were celebrating Sir Alex Ferguson’s 70th birthday.

A late Blackburn corner was flapped at by David De Gea, allowing defender Grant Hanley to head home 10 minutes from time to secure an astonishing result for Steve Kean’s relegation threatened side.

Questions marks were raised across the entirety of the home side, with the most pressing issues to be found in the goalkeeping and centre forward position.

Anders Lindegaard oversaw back-to-back victories marshalling the United net in the previous two outings, only to find himself on the bench for their New Year’s Eve clash against Lancashire opposition.

How Ferguson will have regretted that change when De Gea was at fault for Blackburn’s winner, haplessly flapping at a Morten Gamst Pederson corner to ignite further debate on who should don the gloves for United during the remainder of the season.

Problems remain up front, with Berbatov providing goals to the side upon his return Rooney has simply gone missing from action.

He was out of the matchday squad altogether against Blackburn, with news emerging that the former Everton striker was dropped for his poor performance in training, having gone out for a Boxing Day meal with his wife and fellow players Darren Gibson and Jonny Evans.

Rooney has since accepted the punishment of being docked a week’s wages, as it seems Ferguson felt unable to rely on his star man to put in the shift required.

The Scottish manager described the defeat as a ‘disaster’ and must be thinking about going back on his publicly stated claims not be in the market for reinforcements in the January transfer window.

It would have come as some consolation to Fergie that local foes Manchester City were also beaten this weekend.

Roberto Mancini’s side conceded a shocking late winner at Sunderland to remain level on points with United.

It was City’s second successive goal-less performance, and with Mario Balotelli missing from the match-day squad as his manager blasted his smoking habit, Edin Dzeko fired a number of blanks in his place.

David Silva and Sergio Aguero were thrown on as City chased a winner, but the visitors were struck by a devastating sucker punch as Ji Dong-won scored with the last kick of the game.

It appears that Manchester City are losing their air of invincibility, first suffering two league defeats within a month and now going two games without a win.

Over-complacency is a possibility for this side that for large parts of the season have scored at will and dispatched their opponents with relative ease.

But set-backs are inevitable during league seasons, and it is how United and City respond to their recent defeats this week in their respective fixtures against Newcastle and Liverpool that will be intriguing to assess.

Both Manchester clubs have not started the New Year as they would have wished, but in this unpredictable and at times outrageous Premier League campaign, survival of the fittest should be the mantra that these title challengers abide by.

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