Dubai: With the difference between Manchester City, United and the title last season being just a goal in the 94th minute of the last game, the war for fractional one-upmanship has spilled over into the transfer market.
But with the race for Robin van Persie’s signature going in United’s favour it seems City, who have only strengthened with Jack Rodwell so far, have allowed United to regain ground.
In Van Persie, United now have an extra 30 goals and nine assists a season, no longer leaving narrow margins to chance.
Alex Ferguson is already likening his frontline of Van Persie, Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez to his treble-winning side of 1999 — Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
But one glaring oversight is that in ‘99 Fergie’s centre midfield was commanded by the likes of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, two rock solid influences who have yet to be aptly replicated by either Darren Fletcher or Michael Carrick.
The fact Scholes had to be brought out of retirement last season to make up for such shortfalls makes £24 million spent on another striker seem like misguided exuberance.
Strength up front is one thing, but it’s the connection to that potency, with a holding midfielder, that perhaps needed investment. Tottenham’s Luka Modric may have been a more adequate and versatile addition in bridging that gap.
City’s conservative spend is justified by the fact that they’re a unit already ample in strength and depth. Albeit a team of stars and not always the star team, last year’s wobbles will be eased with the burden of expectation so gloriously taken off their shoulders.
In Vincent Kompany and Nigel De Jong, City have backbone to their sparkle, while in front of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, United seriously lack steel.
Roberto Mancini may be calling United favourites, but with City’s stars still blending and United with a gaping hole in the heart of their midfield, both will know the contest is still a closely fought affair.