Manchester City navigate proving grounds

Manchester City navigate proving grounds

Published Dec. 18, 2011 12:00 a.m. ET

FOX Soccer's lead analyst reflects on the latest news in and around English soccer.

It was another telling Barclays Premier League match day, but the place to start this week is with the leaders, who were put through their paces by one of the hottest teams in the league.

League-leaders flash title credentials

Before Sunday's match at Eastlands, a lot of people were asking questions about Manchester City: What would their response be after losing on Monday? How would the team react to beating beat at Stamford Bridge? Is this a team that's ready to deal with the pressures of being league leaders, something they're not used to?


On Sunday, they answered those questions quite emphatically against an Arsenal team that had been on a very good run of form. Given how Arsene Wenger's team has responded after their tough start, I wouldn't have been shocked to see the Gunners get a result. But City was having none of it. From their excellent movement in the final third, to the midfield denying service to Robin van Persie, to the goalkeeper and back line responding to the big game pressure, City excelled, and it wasn't for lack of quality opposition.

In fact, it was the opposite. Arsenal deserves credit for posing a lot of questions. They showed their quality and had plenty of moments where it seemed they could have an equalizer. But ultimately, City answered all of their questions. They rightfully sit at the top of the Premier League. They look set to rebound and make a real push toward a first Premier League title, even if Manchester United briefly pushed them into second on Sunday.

Manchester United impressed beyond the score

As for the Red Devils, I thought their Sunday performance was a typical Sir Alex Ferguson-led response. Coming into the weekend, there were still a lot of doubts surrounding them, even after their win over Wolves last week. Against Rangers, Ferguson's players showed that trademark United determination - the kind of response we've become accustomed to seeing from this teams.

This could have been a very tricky game. After last week's match against Wolverhampton, the trip to Loftus Road could have proved tougher than it initially looked on paper. We saw how QPR was about to get a result from Chelsea, but to their credit, United stayed clear of that. They were focused, got out in front very early, and in the end, the 2-0 scoreline flattered QPR.

It has to be encouraging that United's biggest names were leading the way. Wayne Rooney was excellent, as was Nani, and ahead of the late match at Eastlands, Manchester United played like a team determined to cease first place. They knew they may not hold the lead for long, but they responded to the opportunity, something that speaks to their focus on another title.

Now United has Javier "Chicharito" Hernández back from his ankle injury. They have Dimitar Berbatov back on the bench. They're getting their team back together. People have been saying United's not firing on all cylinders, but performances like today's show they'll be there to take advantage of any Manchester City slips. As the rest of their squad returns to full fitness, we could see more performances like Sunday's.

Keep an eye on Liverpool, Tottenham

Amongst the other clubs that impressed this week are two that are chasing a top four finish: Liverpool and Tottenham. All season, we've been talking about the importance of teams breaking into those Champions League spots. Tottenham's sat there most of the year, while Liverpool's looking to reclaim a spot. On Sunday, each club got three valuable points. Now Liverpool's only three back of fourth, and while Spurs still have some breathing room on fifth.

One of the things the clubs have in common: They both have excellent managers. Harry Redknapp continues the great job he's done since his moved to White Hart Lane, and Kenny Dalglish is one of the managers for whom I've had the pleasure of playing. Both of these men have shown they have what it takes to lead a club into Champions League, and don't be surprised if both clubs have a say in who wins this year's title.

Now, with this weekend's action, we're into the busiest part of the season. We'll have it all for you on FOX Soccer, but keep in mind: You can always follow me on Twitter at @warrenbarton2 and ask questions to the whole broadcast team via @FOXSoccer. Thanks as always for reading, and we'll see you back in the space come 2012.