Lee Dixon: Now transfer dust has settled I can only see City pushing United
The Weekend Dossier
Saturday 03 September 2011
For all the transfer frenzy of the last week, I've seen nothing to alter my belief that Manchester United are still the team to beat in the Premier League.
Certainly the evidence on the pitch from the first three games suggests United deserve to be favourites, but what those games have shown – combined with the transfer window spending – is that they will face a real challenge from the neighbours. What Manchester City did at White Hart Lane last Sunday put down a proper marker. It's the most balanced City side I have seen for a long, long time.
They were decent last season and finishing fourth and winning the FA Cup was a good return but the balance between attack and defence wasn't always right. At Tottenham it was pretty much perfect. The attack was sparkling – Samir Nasri's debut was pretty much perfect in itself. He couldn't have settled more quickly and with David Silva and Sergio Aguero they have real inventive attacking threat. Having Yaya Touré and Gareth Barry sitting behind them offers security at the other end. They look to have a group of very talented players, working very hard and you can't get a better combination than that.
Where United still have the edge is in experience. Yes they have youngsters but they have players who know how to win the Premier League and that counts. The Manchester clubs stand out on their own and I put them both a bit above Chelsea at the moment.
Juan Mata was an excellent signing, one of the best of the window, but they could have done with Luka Modric to give them an extra touch of creativity. For the time being Andre Villas-Boas has a more pressing issue to deal with. In the last couple of weeks I have been surprised by the vulnerability of their defence. They have been hit by opponents getting in behind the centre-backs too many times and that's an area where I expect teams will increasingly look to hurt them. Villas-Boas could do with getting David Luiz back as soon as possible. Of course they are still strong – and Frank Lampard and John Terry still have much to offer despite their age – but they are vulnerable and Liverpool could push them.
Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool have had a great summer capped by bringing back Craig Bellamy. Whatever you think of him, he's an infectious character to have around a club – as long as he is man-managed properly. When Bellamy signed he was full of what an honour it was to be playing under Dalglish – so I think we can take it as a given that Kenny will be able to handle him. Bellamy is such a difficult opponent because he is unpredictable and he gives Liverpool yet another option. That's what has impressed about their recruitment in the window. It's given them a whole raft of options. Luis Suarez is quick and dangerous, and then if they bring on Andy Carroll that's a whole new threat. And they still have Steven Gerrard to fit in when he gets back to fitness. They have everything needed to finish fourth and even push for third.
Which leaves Arsenal facing the prospect of being outside the top four. I've spent the last week trying to get last weekend out of my system – when I saw the team-sheet sitting in the Match of the Day studio waiting to watch the game I said to Alan Hansen I feared the worst. I couldn't believe what I saw all over the pitch – Arsène Wenger looked like a man in the wilderness sitting on the bench.
The hope for Arsenal fans is that this result can prove a turning point. If it had finished 4-2 or 3-2, we may not have seen such a frantic week in the transfer market. It was certainly not the way the club usually does business under Arsène. But it did meet one of his requirements –the players he has brought in are better than the ones he has in the team. Signing Mikel Arteta came as a shock – although not as much of a shock as it must have been to David Moyes. Losing one of your key players when there is no time to find a replacement is hard on him and a club who look close to being in freefall. They've a big couple of weeks ahead.
The Arteta move is one of the reasons why closing the transfer window once the season has started is ridiculous. It should end before it all kicks off. Having it going on this long does unsettle players and makes it difficult for managers, too. I have some sympathy for players stuck in the middle of it all – it cannot be easy for somebody like Modric being caught in the middle of all that speculation over his future, day after day. It doesn't surprise me he said his head wasn't right to play last Sunday. It would effect anyone in any job.
If this transfer window is disruptive the Christmas one is even worse. There should be one window during the close season and managers should be left with no easy ways out. That would increase the onus on coaching players through the club. The other change that is needed is the loan system – as it stands it is a joke. There should be an age limit attached – I have no problem with players like Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley going out on loan, but it seems ridiculous that someone like Yossi Benayoun or Emmanuel Adebayor – who incidentally is potentially a great signing for Tottenham – can be farmed out at the age of 27.
It was a good window for Harry Redknapp, Daniel Levy and Tottenham. Levy was strong over Modric and now it's time for the Croatian to buckle down. Signing Scott Parker for less than £6m was a really good piece of business too, as is shifting all those other players off the wage bill.
Two of them – Wilson Palacios and Peter Crouch – ended up at Stoke, who have had a great few months. I can't help feeling pleased for one of my old clubs. You have to give credit to Peter Coates (who was chairman when I was there) and the board there – they have backed their manager properly. Tony Pulis has established them in the Premier League and now he has been given what he needs to take them a level above that. Palacios and Crouch will both suit the way they play. Palacios has all the industry Pulis likes of his players and he can play, too. Stoke have a great support and they are getting what they deserve. They can eye up a top 10 finish.
QPR have made some quality signings as well in Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips and there's cause for optimism in Shepherd's Bush as they have been performing decently in their last couple of games as well. It will be interesting to see how Neil Warnock handles his new arrivals.
Open and shut case: My five transfer deals of the summer
Samir Nasri, Manchester City
£23m from Arsenal
Prem Lg goals/apps: 18/87
He looks to have already settled in perfectly as the man to complete City's attacking armoury and was outstanding in the demolition of Spurs
Craig Bellamy, Liverpool
Free from Manchester City
PL goals/apps: 74/245
If Bellamy is managed properly – and Kenny Dalglish knows what he's doing in that area – he will give Liverpool an extra attacking option.
Juan Mata, Chelsea
£26m from Valencia
La Liga goals/apps: 33/129
I have already been impressed with the Spanish midfielder and he can provide that creative touch which Chelsea still need to challenge United
Sergio Aguero, Manchester City
£38m from Atletico Madrid
La Liga goals/apps: 74/175
It is a huge fee but the Argentine striker has not been slow to show the chaos he can cause among the best defences in the Premier League
Peter Crouch & Wilson Palacios, Stoke City
£10m/£8m from Tottenham
PL goals/apps: 63/260; 1/109
These are two high-quality, ambitious arrivals at the Britannia who will both fit perfectly into the style Tony Pulis likes to play
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