Tuesday Team Talk: Manchester City maintain league advantage over United

By Jamie Dickenson

Both Manchester clubs picked up three points this weekend as the Premier League bounced back from international hibernation.

Manchester City ended the unbeaten charge of surprise package Newcastle at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday with a comfortable 3-1 victory.

At the Liberty Stadium later that day, Manchester United ground out a closely contested 1-0 win over Welsh newcomers Swansea City.

Daylight remains at the top of the table between City and United, with Roberto Mancini’s side five points better off than Sir Alex Ferguson’s.

City fans will be delighted with their side’s start to the season, and while former captain Carlos Tevez continues to remain absent from the club, there is a new found sense of spirit and harmony between the current squad.

Mancini might not have solved the ‘Tevez issue’ yet, but he is getting the best out of the players available to him at the moment, highlighted by the contributions of Micah Richards and Mario Balotelli against Newcastle.

Richards once again showed why Fabio Capello’s decision to overlook him for England duty was questionable, marauding down the right flank and capitalising from a defensive mistake to score City’s second.

Balotelli continues to mature under the tutelage of Mancini as he opened the scoring with a penalty, prompting his manager to say: “It is impossible for him to miss one penalty – I don’t know why.”

The good news for the Sky Blues began at the end of last week, when it was confirmed that Adam Johnson and Pablo Zabaleta had penned new long term contracts in Manchester.

Attention also focused on the surrounding area of City’s stadium, after it was revealed work had begun to remove contaminated land from the site set to house the 80-acre Etihad campus, a new footballing academy and training complex.

The facilities hope to replicate ‘La Masia’ academy in Barcelona, which has produced numerous Catalan stars and is the foundation of the Spanish club’s recent success.

Football Development Executive and former player Patrick Vieira said: “We don’t say we should play like Barcelona but they are a fantastic example to follow. We have to be inspired by the work they’ve done.”

Chief Football Operations Officer Brian Marwood added: “It was clearly right that we should go and look at Barcelona. They were brilliant as a club. They weren’t defensive in any way. They allowed us to come in and take a look at the philosophy and culture they’ve developed over a number of years there.”

With Financial Fair Play regulations coming to effect in the 2013/2014 season, City are looking to develop players through their own academy and instigate a self sustainable model at the club.

The Citizens face Napoli tonight in a tricky away tie that is likely to decide the runners-up of Group A, before facing a tough final fixture against leaders Bayern Munich.

However, confidence in the City camp is high at the moment, with boss Mancini stating: “I don’t think we are better than Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, but probably we are at the same level.”

Big claims indeed from the Italian tactician, who will be hoping his charges do not slip up in tonight’s crucial fixture in his home country.

Manchester United face Benfica this evening at Old Trafford, and can take control of their group if they defeat the Portuguese side they are currently level on points with.

United are not in the best of form heading into the important Champions league bout, but a poacher’s finish from Javier Hernandez ensured they took home all three points from Wales in their last outing against Swansea.

Ferguson will have been pleased to see Rio Ferdinand put in a solid performance at the back, and singled out Michael Carrick and Phil Jones for individual praise.

“Michael Carrick was fantastic and we spoke to Phil Jones this morning about how he felt after the busy week he has had,” said Ferguson.

“But he wanted to play and that’s not a surprise because he’s got a lot of energy. He was magnificent in the second half.”

United were hit with fresh injury concerns last week when it was confirmed that Tom Cleverly and Michael Owen would be out of action until Christmas.

Cleverly picked up an ankle injury during October’s win at Everton, whilst Owen lasted 10 minutes of the tie against Otelul Galati before being forced off with a thigh injury.

The club at least have options in the striking department, with Hernandez, Rooney, Welbeck and Berbatov competing for places. Ferguson last week confirmed the Bulgarian will stay for at least another season.

“Dimitar is still in my thoughts. I have read some things but there is absolutely no reason for me to let him go. He is an outstanding footballer and we will give him the extra year.”

Whilst City maintained their league hold over United in the Premier League this weekend, tonight’s fixtures will dictate how far the Manchester club’s will go in this seasons Champions League.

Come second in the group and you potentially face Spanish heavyweights Real Madrid of Barcelona, something neither club in Manchester will be relishing.

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