Manuel Pellegrini and David Moyes are making their debuts in a Manchester derby on Sunday and hoping their attacking threats outnumber the defensive weaknesses
Like his opposite number, making his debut in a Manchester derby, though David Moyes has at least experienced the occasion in the past as a spectator. After four games it is fair to say that those who tipped Manchester City to run away with this season's title have been revising their expectations slightly downwards, for only the opening game was truly impressive and the manner of the unexpected defeat at Cardiff downright worrying. Courtesy of a much kinder Champions League group than City have been used to Pellegrini is up and running in Europe, though there is still uncertainty over his best team, particularly at the front end. On the positive side, there is plenty of room for improvement.
The meanest in the Premier League last season, leaking 34 goals, but still inexplicably flimsy whenever Vincent Kompany goes missing. Fortunately, the reliable Belgian is back from injury now, so City should not have too many defensive worries as long as Joe Hart can put his recent wobbles behind him. Joleon Lescott was so jittery in the last home match that Pellegrini paired Javi García with Matija Nastasic at centre-back for the visit to Stoke, where City were quite lucky to come away with a point, but with Kompany fit again the only area of doubt is left-back, where Gaël Clichy has been injured and Aleksandar Kolarov erratic.
Yaya Touré is still the go-to man, both in terms of providing the drive from deep positions and, increasingly, getting among the goals. He has two in the league this season, although splendid as his late free-kick against Hull City in the last home match was, it put a flattering gloss on a very ordinary performance by his high standards. He was flat that day, and so were City, whereas when Touré is dominant in midfield his side are at their best. He has played every minute of every league game this season, making a total of 347 passes with an accuracy of more than 90%. City now have Fernandinho anchoring the midfield, and if the latest upgrade on Nigel de Jong has made a quiet start in England, at least Touré still has the attacking freedom he desires.
Still a work in progress, with Alvaro Negredo resembling Edin Dzeko, Jesús Navas establishing himself and Stevan Jovetic wondering where he will fit in. The main attacking threats are still the ones from the title-winning season, David Silva and Sergio Agüero, though a lack of goals became a worry last season, and Carlos Tevez has departed since then. While City are not quite as blunt up front as Chelsea, they sometimes suffer from a similar lack of directness in attack, and often need someone to take charge. That said, as United know very well, there are days when everything clicks and big scores can be run up. Even Dzeko can be devastating on his day.
The new Manchester United manager is nearing the end of a start so tough he complained about it, and with a draw at home to Chelsea and defeat at Anfield the derby result will determine whether or not his side will come out on the credit side of the ledger. A poor performance could undermine players' and supporters' confidence, though United managed to look a lot like their old selves in the Champions League in midweek against Bayer Leverkusen, and the club's management deserves recognition for sticking to their guns and their principles in the crisis Wayne Rooney tried to force. If that was the biggest test of all for Moyes he has come through it, and Rooney appears to be thriving on the humble pie diet.
Not at its most convincing in conceding two goals to a fairly unimpressive Bayer Leverkusen in midweek, though the second one of those was after Moyes had made a few substitutions with his side 4-1 up. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic remain the first-choice centre-half pairing for occasions when experience and mental toughness are called for, though along with Patrice Evra they are not as nimble as they used to be and could be vulnerable to pace. City have real pace in Navas, though Pellegrini has also been sticking with a big fella up front in either Dzeko or Negredo, and United will be happy to deal with crosses.
Eyebrows were raised at Moyes's acquisition of Marouane Fellaini from Everton and his somewhat lame excuse for paying £4m over the odds for the combative midfielder. The £27.5m capture has been rather more convincing since he turned up, slotting into a defensive role that allows him to break up opposing attacks while still moving forward for the occasional shot. He does not look out of place playing for United, has deceptively good control for a tall player, and his solidity alongside Michael Carrick allows the wide players in the side to push further up the field. Despite fewer minutes on the pitch he has made more tackles in league matches this season than Touré, though some of those were for Everton.
Now that Rooney appears content playing alongside Robin van Persie and even Sir Alex Ferguson has given his blessing to the partnership, United should cause problems for most defences. Makes you wonder what all the fuss was about really; had Ferguson played them in tandem against Real Madrid last season we might have been spared a summer of angst. Yet it was not just Rooney benched for that game, Shinji Kagawa was also left out. It was Danny Welbeck who played behind Van Persie, and United were doing pretty well until Nani's dismissal. Moyes has plenty of attacking options – he just needs time to find out what works best.