Goal crazy United have the advantage ahead of crucial Manchester showdown

Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie led the charge as the Red Devils moved three points clear at the top while City continue to search for an answer to their attacking frailties
By Stephen Darwin at the Madejski Stadium

Sir Alex Ferguson pulled no punches in his frank assessment of Manchester United's defensive display in the narrow victory over Reading on Saturday.


Provided some wonderful touches in between the lines and as much as United suffered at the back, he instigated some brilliant attacking play up front. Scored two goals for himself, supplied the corner from which Evans won a penalty and laid a goal on for Van Persie with an exquisite flick.

Should have had a hat-trick. After he beat Federici following Rooney's sublime flick, he was denied a second when the linesman incorrectly ruled that his volley had not crossed the line when it was blocked. When he next had sight of goal, though, he only had himself to blame, incredibly managing to miss the target after stealing the ball off Federici on the edge of the six-yard box.
A combination of fury and embarrassment was etched on the Red Devils boss' face as he proceeded to tell the watching world that his side deserved to be "battered" in the seven-goal thriller at the Madejski Stadium.

As woeful as United's defensive display was, however, it was somewhat masked by their devastating attacking play. When a fire was lit by a Reading goal, Wayne Rooney was on hand to put it out. When Jonny Evans or Anders Lindegaard caused a leak, Robin van Persie was there to fix it.

No matter how many times the visitors' defence buckled, there was always an answer to the problem at the other end of the pitch. United were, as Sir Alex aptly surmised, rescued by their irresistible ability to score goals.

The Premier League leaders will need to patch up that rickety defence but while the Red Devils continue to hit the net with more frequency than Chelsea boos for Rafael Benitez, they can head into next weekend's derby confident that they have the firepower to outscore any opponent.

In the blue corner, however, it's a different story entirely.

Manchester City were stopped in their tracks by an impressive Everton side as Roberto Mancini again felt the need to tinker and tweak as he searches for the formula to unlock his side's attacking potential.

Against David Moyes' men, Mancini opted to start with Edin Dzeko alongside Carlos Tevez and audible boos greeted the City manager's decision to take off the Argentine instead of the largely ineffectual former Wolfsburg striker.

The City boss reacted to the 1-1 home draw by calling on his forwards to up their game and start delivering more goals but perhaps the Italian should be looking closer to home for a solution to his striking dilemma.

On Saturday it was Dzeko and Tevez. Last week, against Wigan, Mario Balotelli and Sergio Aguero led the line. The game prior to that, a drab 0-0 draw with Chelsea, Dzeko and Aguero this time got the nod as City's front pairing.

Rarely has Mancini stuck with the same attacking combination for consecutive fixtures and when you have a strikeforce that doesn't have a clue who is going to be the go-to man week-to-week, that surely can't equal a settled camp. The City manager must shoulder his share of the blame.

1 Man.United 15 12 0 3 16 36
2 Man City 15 9 6 0 17 33
Of course in Dzeko, Balotelli and Tevez, the former Inter boss has three outspoken and somewhat eccentric personalities who don't take kindly to minutes on the bench and this apparent need to keep everyone part of the picture is undoubtedly muddying the waters.

Sir Alex, on the other hand, isn't concerned about potential friction within his squad. He has a clear view about his strongest combination and has no qualms about persisting with it, regardless of who is left on the bench and how they feel about it.

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Rooney and Van Persie have started nine out of 10 Premier League games since the beginning of October, limiting a consistently brilliant Chicharito to just two league starts during that period, while Danny Welbeck is in a similar position of having to get used to sporadic appearances in the starting XI.

But what causes friction in one half of Manchester seemingly breeds harmony in the other. It's that desire to get the chance to impress and contribute to the cause that ensures squabbles are kept to an absolute minimum amongst the United ranks.

It's by no means crisis point at City with the champions still unbeaten in the league but with the Reds smashing in goals left, right and centre, it's clearly advantage United ahead of what's shaping up to be another barnstorming Manchester derby.

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