Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Manchester teams' strength is in depth

In the Premier League's early goings-on this season, the bullies have come from the Northwest. Manchester, in particular, as red and blue halves strive to outdo each other's results in a bizarre, entertaining game of one-upmanship.

 City defeated Bolton 3-2, so Manchester United walloped the same Trotters side 5-0. United started unconvincingly against Spurs before three second half goals earned them victory; the Citizens rode Samir Nasri, Kun Aguero and Edin Dzeko to a 5-1 win. The Manchester sides have so far shown the compassion of schoolyard thugs.

 The Premiership has known remorseless sides before: Mourinho's Chelsea springs instantly to mind, while the Invincibles of 2004 had a certain dangerous look behind their eyes. Opposing players just didn't cross the likes of Henry, Vieira or Ray Parlour - not necessarily for fear of any brutal retribution, but the strength of their self-belief (and in their teammates) was enough to distill from them a performance that could only be to your detriment. With the form of these two clubs as it is, the two Mancunian clubs now exhibit similar belief.

 That belief comes down to each club's knowledge that they have strength in depth. Early pace-setters often fizzle, however: derailed by inopportune and unfortunate incidents. But these two clubs are deeper than either the Chelsea team of last season or the 2007-08 edition of Arsenal.

 How so? Oustanding depth comes not from the talent level of your starting eleven, but the surety and game-changing ability of those players who aren't regularly getting a game, those who occupy positions 16-20 in the squad - with players 21-25 usually reserved for academy graduates and youth team players.

 Last season when things started to go pear-shaped for Chelsea, Carlo Ancelotti could call on (injuries excepting): Yossi Benayoun, Jose Boswinga, Yuri Zhirkov, Paulo Ferreira and Hilario. After the Wrath of Taylor, Arsenal's "depth players" included youngsters Bendtner, Song, Denilson, Justin Hoyte and the injured Tomas Rosicky. Backup talent, to be sure, but no great game-changers (with the possible exception of healthy Benayoun and Rosicky).

 Though subject to near-interminable debate, United players 16-20 are probably Jones, Smalling, Fabio, Welbeck and Park. For City, they could conceivably be Adam Johnson, Savic, Kolo Toure, Hargreaves and Pantilimon. Every single one of those players is a member of their country's first team setup (if awaiting debut); United probably boast more game-turners. The money spent to bring in those players is also significant - a factor which of course must be taken into account.

 The strongest "next" club is probably Chelsea and unsurprisingly, they're the team picked as the only possible one to upset a Mancunian duopoly. Their "next five" are likely Oriol Romeu, Josh McEachran, Salomon Kalou, Ferreira and Romelu Lukaku: wonderful promise for future years, but perhaps not enough proven presence to allow outstanding depth this year. However, only weeks ago similar things were said about Smalling, Jones and Welbeck.

The season is long and we have only just begun. Already, the Manchester clubs look imposing.


  1. Agreed. Liverpool have a much stronger first team this season but squad depth may be their undoing (although no European campaign). City's tough group in the CL may stretch their depth, but they have good fixtures after their away games in Naples and Spain. I think if Chelsea stays relatively fit they will still challenge for the premiership. 3 way race has begun.

  2. Liverpool's first team is debatably as good as Chelsea's in terms of talent, but lacks both health and the cohesion that comes of playing the same style of football together for years.

    Another thing to note is that City play away from home in the EPL after every Champions' League match - which could have a great effect on the Premier League title this year.