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The Table Does Lie

The early season form-book may have been turned on its head, but normal service will soon be resumed.

Tony Cascarino, 29 Aug 2007

"Sack Fergie and Sven for England!” seems to be the consensus after the Manchester derby, but I still think City will struggle, and United will run Chelsea right to the wire this season.

Everyone but Stevie Wonder could see that Man City were totally outclassed on Sunday and, apart from Geovanni’s goal, didn’t trouble Van der Sar once. They surrendered possession so cheaply that, on another day, United could have stuck four or five past them.

Nine points out of nine and no goals conceded are impressive stats, but West Ham were shocking against City at Upton Park, and Derby County look every bit as far off the Premiership pace this season as Watford were last.

That said, a couple of Sven’s foreign signings look useful, and in Richard Dunne and Micah Richards they’ve a central defensive partnership that should keep them out of the relegation mire.

No one’s seriously suggesting that Alex Ferguson will be the first Premiership manager to get his P45 this season – that dubious honour is likely to go to Sammy Lee at Bolton – but he has been getting stick for United’s poor start to the campaign.

You have to bear in mind that Wayne Rooney and four or five other key players are injured: Carlos Tevez and Owen Hargreaves aren’t match fit; and that they’re without Ronaldo because of his abject stupidity in the Portsmouth game.

He may have stuck up for the young lad publicly, but in private Alex will have given him an almighty bollocking, and told him that opponents winding you up is part and parcel of being a flair player. If I’d twatted every opposition defender who’d slagged off my wife, told me I was shit or questioned my parentage, I’d have ended up in jail.

I do think that Man U’s play this season has been too tip-tappy and lacking in variation. Given Saha’s history of injuries, I wouldn’t be surprised if Alex puts a £10 million-plus bid in for Nicolas Anelka who won’t want to stick around at Bolton if there’s a relegation battle brewing. Another player who’d spice up their attack and give them different options is Peter Crouch, but given the tug-o-war over Gabriel Heinze there’s no way that Rafael Benitez is going to let him to go to Old Trafford.

Being seven points adrift after just three games is a major blow, but to suggest that they’re out of the title race already is daft.

Whatever happens in the Denmark game, Steve Staunton will be delighted with Stephen Hunt’s start to the season at Reading. I still think he’s behind a fully fit Damien Duff in the Ireland pecking order, but what a fantastic option to have on the bench.

Stephen reminds me a lot of Ray Houghton – he’s industrious, never pulls out of a tackle, can spot a pass and weighs in with important goals. There’s also the added bonus of him having a fantastic understanding with Kevin Doyle who, as I’ve said before, is our most important striker.

Any illusions that Sunderland fans might have had about Premiership life being easy would’ve been shattered by the mauling they got at Wigan.

Their last minute winner against Spurs masked the fact that, for most of the game, they were second best. Roy will be delighted with the way Paul McShane and Michael Chopra have adapted to life in the top-flight, but concerned about Kieran Richardson’s below-par performance against Birmingham. If Sunderland are to beat the drop, the players they have with previous Premiership experience need to be on top of their game. I don’t know for certain, but I imagine Roy’s “There’s a fine line between loyalty and stupidity and I’ve been stupid – it won’t happen again” remark was aimed at Dwight Yorke who’s a shadow of the striker he was at Manchester United and, for me, nowhere near hungry enough. I’m surprised Roy didn’t think of getting in Teddy Sheringham, who may be 40-plus but is as determined to succeed as ever.

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