CARSON, Calif. (AP) – We head into the international break with a good chunk of the season behind us and the games now start to come fast and furious as we head into Boxing Day. Right now, the top three teams are as we expected them to be, but there are real questions over who will finish fourth.
Let's start at the top, where you have to take your hat off to Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson. He's got four phenomenal strikers and he's kept them all happy and fed. Chicharito's performance this week was simply enormous: he's been so classy in biding his time - all young players should hear the interview he gave after this weekend's game. He was gracious, he was smart and came off as a man who knows that sometimes you have to wait for your chances - and then seize them when they come along.
The manner in which United are winning games is telling in two ways: they've now won eight out of 16 games across all competitions after going down a goal or two. That speaks to their character and their quality - and to the real defensive frailties they have. Sir Alex will have to address that in the transfer window because without Nemanja Vidic this team looks very vulnerable. It sure makes for exciting games, but as the matches pile up, that's a weakness this team cannot afford.
Manchester City are also making a habit of coming back, and Edin Dzeko deserves all the praise he is getting. He's got five goals off the bench and three winners for the club, and that says a lot about him as a player. The difference in my mind between the Manchester sides, however, is that City seem to have a lot of drama around them. Dzeko is immediately griping about his role after this game and assistant coach David Platt felt compelled to say right away that his man's not a "super sub."
City are also conceding a lot of goals off set pieces: six of the ten goals they've allowed in the league have come that way and that's something Roberto Mancini has to address. They have the pace and the players to compete for the title, but I do worry about how much swirls about this team.
Chelsea is in the mix, but this is a team that looks tired and that concerns me only eleven games into the season. Roberto Di Matteo has stamped his name on this side, but so many of the same players are being trotted out game after game and they are starting to feel it. Eden Hazard and Oscar both look weary, and with John Terry maybe out for an extended period, they also will have to dig into the transfer market. They are European champions and absolutely in the title mix, but Di Matteo, needs to strengthen that squad and start rotating his players a bit more. There's quality on that bench.
Let's look at the other end this week: the two North London sides came out poorly ahead of next weekend's derby. Tottenham have found it difficult with all the expectations on them, and if there's one thing I would point to it's that Andre Villas-Boas is tinkering too much. Do they play a 4-4-2? Do they play with a central striker? Do they have Clint Dempsey withdrawn or high up? You don't know from week to week and that hurts them. Leaving Jermain Defoe on the bench Sunday also didn't sit well - you play a man when he's red hot.
At the Emirates, the signs are a bit more dire. They need a lot of help - they've put a brave face on losing Robin van Persie and Alex Song, but eleven games in, we're seeing how damaging those departures really were. Some of us misread the early going and thought Steve Bould had got that defense sorted out. He hasn't. They've lost a lot of confidence over the past three weeks as well, and I don't see a lot of character to overcome that. There is class, to be sure, but you need men to stand up when times are tough. Where are those men? I don't know.
Now, the fans have already turned on the board. The next man they will go after is Arsene Wenger, and it's hard to blame them. No one has a divine right to remain a head coach and the fact is, it's been seven long years since they've won something. If I'm him, I'm setting my sights on winning a cup - anything, really. Settling for the knockout round of the Champions League or fourth place isn't enough.
uickly: two managers in trouble face off next weekend. One I think is a victim of expectations; the other I think needs to look in the mirror.
I am stunned that Nigel Adkins is under pressure. This is a man who did a magnificent job to get Southampton up on very limited means. Everyone there knew it was going to be a struggle and to Adkins' credit, he has his team trying to play the game the right way.
Mark Hughes, on the other hand, is in trouble. QPR have to win at home or he's out the door. Ties are no longer good enough for this side and I think the owners have been very patient. Perhaps too patient.
I just want to close out by wishing all the best of luck to my boys this week in Sweden on Wednesday and also to the USA in Russia: two good games that I am really looking forward to! As always, you can follow me on Twitter @warrenbarton2 and ask a question anytime there or @FOXSoccer. Thanks as always for reading and I'll see you next week!