A Manchester derby with defenders in the spotlight
MAN CITY v MAN UNITED
(Tonight, 9.30pm, SingTel mio TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
1 ANAEMIC LEFT
One statistic stands out.
Of the 14 goals they conceded in the English Premiership and Champions League, five were plotted from their left side of defence - either passes or crosses from open play.
Looking at the personnel in that department, it's no surprise.
Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov may be defenders by trade but they offer more options farther up front than at the back.
Clichy, in particular, has been disappointing. Against Arsenal, he allowed Jack Wilshere to casually waltz past him to score the Gunners' first goal.
It might have been Eliaquim Mangala who conceded the own goal against Hull, but it was Clichy who was beaten like an amateur on his flank which created the mess in the first place.
West Ham were next to take advantage of his poor marking, via Diafra Sakho, who soared high above Clichy to net the Hammers' second.
Allardyce identified his poor positional sense and targeted the space between Clichy and Mangala in their match against City.
Kolarov won't offer much improvement to the left side of City's defence either. While his crosses and set-piece ability offer plenty of attacking options, they are not what Pellegrini need at the moment.
2 ELIAQUIM MANGALA
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce targeted him as the weak link.
After the Hammers beat Manchester City 2-1 last Saturday, rival teams will be scrambling for Allardyce's blueprint.
Mangala was caught out time and again by the hosts, who capitalised on his poor positioning and aerial weakness.
For the opening goal, he was easily brushed aside by Enner Valencia, who crossed for Morgan Amalfitano to score.
It was a repeat of the nightmare display he had in City's 4-2 win over Hull last month, when he scored an own goal and conceded a spot-kick.
Opponents would be looking at how Abel Hernandez managed to slip past Mangala so easily to receive a pass in the area, before the Frenchman brought him down to give away the penalty.
It was worrying how he committed a similar error against CSKA Moscow in a Champions League game that ended 2-2 last week, allowing Ahmed Musa to ran unobstructed through the central defence before providing the cross that led to Moscow's first goal.
The £32-million ($65.6m) defender has looked naive. Manager Manuel Pellegrini has called for patience, citing the example of Martin Demichelis, who endured a torrid start before coming good in his second term. But can City's title hopes wait?
3 PRICE OF ATTACKING FOOTBALL
Allardyce also went into detail on how little protection Mangala was getting, which suggested the buck doesn't stop with him.
Big Sam said: "They leave him exposed... we all know Manchester City come away from home and attack you. We've seen a lot this season about those spaces they leave can be exploited by other teams."
City play a dangerous game, and they are probably entitled to when one looks at their formidable attacking line-up.
But the backline could do with a little more help, especially from the midfield.
City lack an energetic anchorman who gets himself stuck in and is always well-positioned to cover for his teammates behind him.
Fernando, as the sole player who was supposed to provide the shield from midfield, provides little, which present a huge problem considering how City were set up.
Midfielders Yaya Toure, David Silva and Jesus Navas, and the many other attack-minded players, were never going to offer much in their own half.
Pellegrini can turn to Fernandinho, his other option in the holding role.
But with the ex-Shakhtar Donetsk an even more attack-minded player, it's unlikely he's the solution.
1 UNSETTLED BACKLINE
Manchester United's notoriously fragile defence has gone through plenty of torment, but manager Louis van Gaal hasn't been helped by a host of injuries to his players.
Reports before last week's United-Chelsea game pointed out that no other club have used more different players than the 30 United have had to call upon this season.
Van Gaal has used eight different defenders and also tried six different combinations.
If the players themselves aren't confused by the ever-changing line-up, the pundits already are.
The Dutchman probably didn't help matters by trying to introduce a three-man defence initially, which saw the Red Devils pick up only two points from their first three matches.
They have since reverted to a traditional back four. But he still hasn't had a chance to find out for sure what his first-choice backline looks like.
Things should improve once the injuries clear up.
Until then, United fans can only look back at the Neville-Ferdinand-Vidic-Evra backline with longing.
2 AERIAL WEAKNESS
United's vulnerability in the air was ruthlessly exposed by Chelsea last week.
When Cesc Fabregas delivered a corner-kick into the penalty box in the 53rd minute, Rafael da Silva was marking Didier Drogba, a man 17cm taller than him.
After the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, van Gaal admitted that his team did not have the height to deal with the Blues.
He said: "I think Rafael is one of the best defenders. He lacks a lot of height, but I don't have other players. That is my problem - we are always smaller than the opponents."
It should therefore come as no surprise that United have been particularly vulnerable when rivals adopt the aerial assault, as well as during set-pieces.
Of the 13 goals they have conceded in nine games, five came from an opponent's head.
Of the four goals they have let in from set-piece situations, all were headers.
Van Gaal, however, only got it half-right.
Poor marking and ill discipline in the box are to blame too.
West Ham's goal in their 2-1 loss to United in September came after a bout of head tennis in United's box.
After a corner-kick was floated in, a West Ham player guided the ball towards his teammate with his head.
The resulting second header came off the crossbar, before Diafra Sakho nodded it home from point-blank range.
Van Gaal identified the defensive weaknesses early, which was why he recruited Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw, for a combined fee of about £57 million ($117m).
But the losses of veterans Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand left a huge gap.
Physically, the duo might be on the wane, but it was the leadership that they provided at the back that was crucial.
United don't have that general who has the influence to organise things in their own penalty box at the moment.
The inexperience is worrying.
At 26, Jonny Evans is the oldest natural defender in the squad, followed by Chris Smalling, Rojo and Rafael, who are all 24.
Of the lot, only Rojo and Rafael look likely starters.
Phil Jones, 22, appears most capable to assume a leadership role in defence, but his proneness to injury has seen him make only four league appearances this term.
As a result, United's defence is learning through trial and error.
Opponents realise that their rearguard can be easily pulled out of shape with a few clever runs.
Swansea stretched them past breaking point, as did Leicester and West Bromwich Albion.