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Big week for BPL big guns


As the Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, watches Mancini and Man City stumble around this season domestically and abroad, he has to reflect on the Premier League table of Easter Sunday when United had a better goal difference and an eight-point advantage over Man City.

Yet, somehow his team contrived to lose the league on goal difference. The knight's slant on it ever since has been the importance of scoring more goals; a point he emphasised over the weekend after United totally dominated a shockingly limp Arsenal but, after missing chance after chance, ended up 2-1 winners.

Last season, United threw the league away after drawing at home to Everton 4-4, despite leading 4-2 with only ten minutes remaining. The failure to close out that match rather than not scoring more goals counted against United from retaining their BPL title.

It has come to light to light that Mancini looked for a way out during that bleak Easter period by holding talks with the owners of Monaco. It has been very hard to understand why City are not playing with the fluency expected from champions.

When winning the title after a long time, usually there is a release and the teams generally start to batter the opposition. What we still see with City is the use of the handbrake and a certain uncertainty as if they are not comfortable with the tag of champions. Very strange.

Nowhere is this more obvious than when they are in Champions League action. In Madrid they almost pilfered an unlikely point but a Kompany duck, an unsighted Joe Hart and a Ronaldo speculative shot gave the hosts all three points. At home against the German champions Dortmund, City managed to be worse. A harsh refereeing call gave the hosts a share of the points in a match in which Joe Hart in goal made save after crucial save to keep his team in it.

In truth, if Lewandowski had kept his head and buried a brilliant chance carved out of a breath-taking counter-attack instead of shooting wide, even Hart's heroics might have come to nothing.

City's luck did not hold at Ajax where, despite taking an undeserved lead, the hosts proceeded to dismantle the English champions with alarming ease. So, the return this week is incredibly vital for City if they are going to continue in Europe in any form at all.

Watching City labour against West Ham at Upton Park does not give neutrals or even Mancini fans hope that the team can haul themselves back into contention. City's transition from defence is too predictable and mostly slow.

Fans of Yaya Toure are quick to point out his lung-bursting runs but do not notice how laboured he can be as City try needless intricate passing movements. Mancini does not trust width from natural wide men, hence his deployment of Balotelli there to the huge frustration of the player. Whatever the Italian manager does, he knows he must beat Ajax to stand any chance of continuing in a European competition.

It was embarrassing watching Arsenal's abject display at Old Trafford over the weekend, especially given how well they had started the season, with fine performances at Anfield and at the Etihad. That defeat at home to Chelsea and the limping off of Abou Diaby has done more damage than it seemed that sunny afternoon in North London.

Now is the added pressure of making a complete pig's ear of what looked a straightforward Champions League group following the emphatic home defeat last match day by Schalke.

Arsene Wenger and his beleaguered troops must get up and make sure they avoid defeat at the '04 Champions League final. It will be tough. It is even tougher to pinpoint where exactly Arsene or his board have NOT annoyed the club's teeming fans.

It says a lot for the club that missing Abou Diaby is so plainly obvious to the general wellbeing of the club on the football pitch. He is no Thierry Henry. Or is he? It might not be a bad thing in the long run if Arsenal don't make it out of a quite winnable group, so it might put more pressure on the powers that be at the club so they can put pressure on the manager.

Chelsea fans gleefully chant "Champions of Europe" as they well should but sometimes one actually forgets that they are. Their campaign and eventual triumph last season owed much to the defending, huge slices of luck and the talent of the now departed Didier Drogba.

The present team is set up much differently and play a more expansive brand of football. They were picked apart in Donetsk last match day, have picked up one point from six in the league, losing top spot and their unbeaten record. They are also embroiled in a needless controversy over what a referee might have said to John Mikel Obi after the league match with Manchester United.

It is not very clever of those in charge of Chelsea to pursue this on hearsay only as video footage of the ref's interactions with the said player have not revealed anything as was so evidently clear in the John Terry case. I find it inconceivable in this climate that a referee of the standard of Mark Clattenburg will be so stupid as to say such to a footballer.

I struggle to see how Chelsea can prove this and I believe strongly that a lot of heads will roll at the end of it all.

In spite of all this, Chelsea should still be good enough to beat Shakhtar and progress from the group stages. Failure to do this might have dire consequences, as they run the risk of being the first defending champions not to make it past the group stages.

Manchester United cannot afford to give Braga another two-goal start as they did in the first fixture. Avoiding defeat will give the English league leaders one foot in the knock-out stages already.

Wenger and Mancini are under pressure.


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