- Premier League
Puncture repair for City and United
Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.
Leaky Manchester City
Manchester City have defensive leaks that perhaps should have been plugged with rolls of money this summer. They have conceded six goals in their last two matches, while their sole backline reinforcement was 32-year-old Martin Demichelis, who has yet to play a game due to injury. Granted, three of the last six goals they let in were against the best team on the planet, Bayern Munich, but City did themselves few favours, as demonstrated by England goalkeeper Joe Hart, whose wrists looked as strong as breadsticks on Wednesday, and Gael Clichy, whose dough-like brain prompted hilarity for the second goal.
Against an Aston Villa side without Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor, though - when three points were let slip despite 67% possession and 21 shots at goal - better was expected. Villa's third and winning goal served as a premonition for what was about to come in the Champions League as Matija Nastasic - so good last season - and Vincent Kompany got square and then Hart shot off his line and past the ball as if he'd rather head down the tunnel already.
Fortunately, their next match is at home, where they have been strong in the league, with ten goals scored and one conceded, compared with their struggles on the road, where Manuel Pellegrini's side are yet to win, having also lost at Cardiff and been held by Stoke City. Unfortunately, this weekend's match is against an Everton team revving the motor, boosted by the wrecking ball that is Romelu Lukaku, who blew Newcastle to smithereens on Monday, aided by the raw and buccaneering Ross Barkley.
Any suggestions Pellegrini's job is under any genuine threat right now are fanciful, as the Chilean is in the embryonic stage of his City career, experimenting and tinkering to find the right formula. Yet, while a loss to Bayern is understandable, it was in this competition that he was ideally meant to make an impression. City have it within them to click, as demonstrated by their derby win over Manchester United, and it is a performance of that ilk, with that level of tenacity, that is required when they host Roberto Martinez's Everton on Saturday lunchtime. Otherwise, it will be a long international break at the Etihad Stadium.
Pressure mounts on Moyes
It also isn't going especially well for David Moyes at Old Trafford, as they rivalled City for Most Pants Defending of the Weekend in their match against West Bromwich Albion. The space in the centre of the field that was afforded to the visitors' more talented dribbling players was alarming, and shovelled more of the brown stuff onto the pile that Moyes has promised he will clean up.
A lack of creativity not addressed by the addition of someone like Thiago Alcantara or Cesc Fabregas in the summer reared its head against Shakhtar Donetsk, too, with Danny Welbeck's goal the only shot on target - although at least the team was a tighter unit than it had been versus West Brom. A point in the Ukraine is not to be sniffed at, but the failure to push on having gone ahead gave those who question Moyes' attacking impetus extra ammunition, and the Scot's recent mixed messages to the press have not helped muffle the doubters.
With three losses in their opening six Premier League games, plainly this rate of dropped points cannot be replicated throughout the term if the champions are to defend their title. The pressure on Moyes is weightier than that on Pellegrini, due to the man he replaced and the sustained success the club have come to enjoy over the years, but the load should feel a little lighter come the final whistle of Saturday's trip to bottom club Sunderland, who, while free of alleged tension that Paolo Di Canio brought, are still not a good team.
Newcastle's brittle backline
Perhaps City left-back Clichy was taking a leaf out Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa's Book of Jokes on Wednesday, as two days earlier the Newcastle United centre-back appeared dazed by the Goodison Park floodlights, aimlessly bumbling away from the danger he might well have stopped. It was a bold step, but not a surprising one, when Alan Pardew took Yanga-Mbiwa off at half-time against Everton, and with the club 'boasting' the second worst defensive record in the division it can be expected Mike Williamson will keep his place against Cardiff this weekend.
Jol v Hughes
Mark Hughes returns to his former club just when Fulham counterpart Martin Jol may be heading for the exit door. So often derided for their feebleness on their travels, Fulham head into their match against Stoke at Craven Cottage having picked up only one point in their last seven Premier League matches at home. The West London natives are growing restless. Jol might indeed be feeling hot under the collar, in particular as he is now working under a new owner in Shad Khan, while Hughes will be seeking a response from his team, who had impressed until they were insipid at home to a Norwich City side low on confidence.
West Ham United have failed to score in four of their six top-flight matches this season. None of their strikers have yet netted either. It is little surprise they are feeling the absence of Andy Carroll, with Modibo Maiga seemingly not up to the task of filling his presumably canoe-sized boots. And their manager, Sam Allardyce, accepts their shortcomings are in the final third. Their search for the rush that comes with the net a-rippling comes - sadly for them - at Tottenham Hotspur, who have the joint-best defensive record in the Premier League.
Not pretty at Palace
There are problems for Palace, and a trip to Anfield is not what the doctor ordered. Currently 19th in the standings, Ian Holloway's team seem set to remain in the relegation zone as we head into the international break - with the match that follows against fellow strugglers Fulham shaping up to be quite the important date in their diary. Holloway is not being helped by his players, after seeing summer signing Marouane Chamakh opt for cowardice as he chose to dive instead of actually shoot. Indeed, the former Arsenal player's tumble encapsulated his manager's concerns about the team also folding, as he said: "I didn't like the way we capitulated again really."