Manchester United are not exciting. They’ve not controlled games. They’re yet to really turn in a performance all season. And yet they’re top of the league. It’s crackers. Will they win the title? No, City are just too much better. But right now, City are doing their best to blow it. They were taken down fair and square by a brilliant West Ham display the other week, but on Saturday they simply didn’t show up against Tottenham. Without David Silva they just don’t look the same – they’ve got other good players, but he’s the man who joins the dots for them. Yet once he’s back they should be fine again. You just can’t say the same for United. There will be plenty of fans who are delighted that Louis van Gaal’s team has found a way to consistently churn out results. And they’ve a fair point, because we’re far enough into the season now that the league table isn’t lying. But the connoisseurs among the fans won’t be happy. Under Alex Ferguson they got used to years of enjoying great performances as well as great results, and that is something that this team has not done. If I’d been in a team that played like United have this season, we’d have feared for our lives when we went back in to face Fergie in the dressing room – even if we’d come out of it with three points.
So while the scoreline looked good at the weekend, if Chris Smalling hadn’t been on top form and if David de Gea hadn’t made those three excellent saves, things would look very different right now. Yes, United have done enough, but they’ve never looked capable of killing off games, or dominating other sides, and I worry about the lack of creativity. The worst of it is that they’ve got a kid there in Andreas Pereira who has the flamboyance and imagination to be a game-winner for them, but he is not going to be given a proper chance. I first saw Pereira at the U20 World Cup in New Zealand this summer, and he was insanely good. He got a chance for United in the League Cup and was brilliant. Yet will he get a proper chance to shine in the league? The fact that he was left on the bench at the weekend suggests not. Until United have that sort of player pulling the strings in the side and making things happen – as Silva does for City – then United fans will turn up to each game without the faintest idea of what they’re about to see.
It’s the same across the league, though. City, Chelsea and Arsenal are utterly inconsistent in their ability to perform at the moment. What this season shows above all is just how far the Premier League has fallen. In part – but only in part – it’s down to teams lower down the league improving hugely, thanks to the new money and good managers they’ve brought in. Leicester have been a revelation, Swansea look very dangerous despite not even firing on all cylinders yet, and West Ham’s wins away from home at Arsenal, City and Liverpool have been incredible. Though with the Hammers, it’s a huge worry that they’ve been unable to produce the same form back at Upton Park. The inability to turn it on against smaller clubs suggests a very worrying mentality among the players – something that Newcastle appear to share, after the way they took Chelsea to pieces for 70 minutes at the weekend before reverting to their normal form for the season so far. As for Chelsea themselves? They’re a total mess, and Jose Mourinho really isn’t helping. His threat the other day about bringing in the young players if his big names keep on failing? Well, what a load of absolute rubbish. He can’t bring them in, because they’ve either been farmed out to clubs in Belgium and so on, or they’ve been totally neglected. Mourinho hasn’t nurtured anyone. When Kurt Zouma is a mainstay of the side you know they’re in trouble – because I guarantee you Mourinho is biting his lip every time he picks Zouma for the team. He’s got all the agility of an ironing board – he actually reminds me of a notorious QPR defender from back in the day called Bob Hazell, or Big Bad Bob as he was known. To have dropped John Terry for Zouma is a joke. Chelsea have a lot to prove in the Champions League matches this week – just as United, Arsenal and City do as well. The teams they face this week – against Porto, Wolfsburg, Olympiacos and Borussia Mönchengladbach respectively – are exactly the kind of sides you could always trust big English clubs to beat. Nowadays you wouldn’t trust any of them to beat Brentford.