Man Utd Club Focus – Goal difference the problem in the Premier League but the helper in Europe

A single Phil Jones goal was enough to give Manchester United their customary win over Aston Villa on Saturday evening, a result in stark contrast to the latest rout perpetrated by Manchester City as the pretenders to the Red Devils’ Premier League throne added to their already imposing goal difference.

The tally currently stands at +18 to Manchester United and +35 to Manchester City. Ordinarily, United’s tally would be considered the impressive one, certainly in the context of last season. On December 5 2010 United were also sat second in the table, on 31 points, a one behind Arsenal and with a goal difference of +19, the joint-highest (with Chelsea) in the division. City were fourth with 29 points and a goal difference of +9. The figures show just how startling a turnaround has taken place at the Etihad Stadium, and also, despite some patchy recent results, how consistent United have been from one year to the next.

City’s extraordinary goal scoring form is nevertheless akin to an extra point, for even if United were to claw back the five that separate the two teams, they would likely remain in second place due to goal difference. And as much as the differing goal difference is down to City’s array of strikers, their strength at the other end of the pitch is contributing just as greatly. With only four goals conceded at home, City have let in six fewer than United – the same number City put past the champions at Old Trafford. Take out that freakish result and United have – with City – the joint-second best defensive record on their own ground, behind Swansea City, and have conceded six fewer goals on their travels than the Blues and 15 fewer than the Welsh side.

Taken singularly, there is no measure that says United are doing poorly. By the general standards of the league they are actually fairing quite well. It is however when compared to events across the city that the picture changes, but, as with comparing bank balance to bank balance, matching anything against the exaggerated world of Manchester City is likely to produce a negative result. Manchester City have without doubt raised the level of competition in the Premier League and Manchester United are just one of the sides fighting to keep up – indeed, two points clear of Tottenham Hotspur and five of Chelsea, they are leading that fight. Manchester City, with the money they have spent in past years, should be heading the table but United’s doggedness, emphasised by their latest 1-0 victory at the home of challenging opposition, means wresting the title away from Old Trafford will be far from straightforward.

The Champions League nevertheless takes centre stage this week, with United facing a crunch tie in Switzerland against FC Basel. United’s fate is in their own hands – a point would be enough to go through albeit, most likely, in second place. All three could put United through as group winners – dependant, as seemingly everything now is, on goal difference.

See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Man Utd v Wolverhampton

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