Why Manchester United are top and Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal are not

Correct me if I am wrong, but are Manchester United on the verge of going into Christmas six points clear at the top of the Premiership?

While Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea were busy spending gadzillions in Summer on Kuyts, Rosickys and Shevchenkos, United were selling off their goal machine and their only recruit was a defensive midfielder.

Without Van Nistlerooy, Manchester United looked like toast. Rooney may be their jewel in the crown, but as everyone is so keen on pointing out these days, he is not an out-and-out striker. So the goalscoring mantle has fallen on Louis Saha, who has only recently been showing the kind of form that convinced Ferguson to buy him in the first place.

There seemed to be nothing new, nothing left, perhaps in the creaking bones of the likes of Scholes, Neville and Giggs.

Young talent, Rooney excepted, promised little. Fletcher and O’Shea have been Premiership laughing stock and Cristiano Ronaldo labeled as an unsporting and expensive show-pony.

Yet it is they, not Arsenal, not Liverpool, not even Chelsea, who are in pole position for the Premiership season and it has been confounding the heck out of everyone as to how they got there? Does Fergie have a secret formula he is not letting on to?

Actually, it is much simpler than that. All three of the other member states of the Premiership Elite have been so busy tinkering with their teams that they have taken their eyes off the prize.

Benitez’s intentions may be good in introducing wide players at Liverpool, but the results have proved almost disastrous on too many occasions. Chelsea, meanwhile, have been doing the opposite, eliminating wide play altogether. Mourinho has instead plumped for a hideous 4-1-3-2 formation which attempts to accommodate all three of Ballack, Lampard and Essien, but fails to get the best out of any of them.

Wenger is also guilty. His obsession with turning obscure foreign youth players into unlikely Premeirship superstars is becoming unhealthy for Arsenal and their league form is erratic because of this.

For Manchester United, though, it has been all the usual suspects -Scholes and Giggs in particular, who have turned on the style in what may well be their final hurrah as championship material. Everyone that matters at Manchester United has been settled and on form.

Fergie has stuck with a formation that is comfortable for his side, one that works. And by default his team are now in the driving seat. That has been his formula for success. He will just hope that the others keep tinkering with theirs into 2007.

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