Former Manchester City star Richard Dunne believes Pep Guardiola’s men are capable of raising the bar further still on a record-breaking season and this time remaining unbeaten throughout. What’s more he’s certain that the players believe this too.
The defender, who was capped 80 times by the Republic of Ireland in a career that spanned two decades, was speaking exclusively to 888sport just moments after another six-goal masterclass from the Blues and though the ruthless attacking football greatly impressed, what encouraged Dunne the most was City’s eleventh clean sheet of the season. It’s a miserliness founded on a recently established centre-back pairing of John Stones and Aymeric Laporte, a partnership that the 39 year old pundit insists is breaking new ground.
“They are very different to when you go back over the years to the centre-back pairings that United had. Vidic and Stam, Steve Bruce and Pallister even. They were tough tacklers whereas the two City have – who are the only two centre-backs that Pep has bought – are completely within his profile of ball-playing defenders.
They don’t seem to be in positions to need last-ditch tackles. Instead they read the game really well and obviously with the team they have ahead of them - and Fernandinho in particular - they are not under so much pressure. This brings its own issue though because they need to concentrate all the time and remain switched on.”
While the Spaniard has been in imperious form to this point, it’s the heightened performances of Stones that should have English supporters drooling, with Dunne stating that the Three Lions are ‘very lucky’ to have him. As for City they have a ready-made successor to Vincent Kompany, armband and all.
“Whether John Stones becomes the captain in the long-term or not he’s certainly becoming a leader in his own way. He had a tough first season when he signed because he made mistakes but he was always brave enough to stand up to it then come back out and try the same things. He’s gradually getting the mistakes out of his game and is improving all of the time and he’s someone who is happy to accept responsibility. He’d be a good captain for City.”
If defensively City are impregnable at present, the same cannot be said of their arch rivals across town who are unusually looking somewhat suspect at the back. If this is a cause for concern at any time, that concern can be multiplied ten-fold for Manchester United ahead of a combustible derby this weekend and Dunne believes Jose Mourinho can’t and won’t stand for it much longer.
“It’s not easy for United because when you look around the world there is not that many centre-backs playing at that top level who they can get from other clubs. Since the days of Ferdinand and Vidic, United have struggled to get a settled two and I’m sure as soon as Mourinho has the opportunity he will change the two he has now for different ones.
At the moment he has Lindelof and Smalling but they don’t inspire confidence throughout the team and as soon as that transfer window opens I’m sure they will be out looking for centre-backs again.”
United’s problems of course do not solely reside with their back four and Dunne – who remains a firm fan favourite within the blue camp of Manchester after winning the club’s Player of the Year award four years’ running in the mid-2000s – insists their short-comings are as much to do with a lack of organisation off the pitch as on it.
“When you look at how Manchester City are run all of the decisions, all the way up, are made by footballing people; people who understand the game and have been involved in football for a long time and know all about the coaches needs and the player’s needs. Whereas at United it is businessmen all the way up who are qualified in other areas but with no understanding of actual football.”
“This is why they fail in terms of transfer negotiations and the structure of the club. They don’t understand that it’s not just about the first team and the here and now. It’s about planning for the future and for all the money Manchester United have spent you don’t look at them and think ‘well in five years’ time they’ll be great because they have all these young players’. They are going to have to buy again and again and again.”
“They need to restructure everything from top to bottom if they want to catch up with Manchester City.”
Having come up against the very best forwards the world has to offer during his time with City and Ireland, and later Aston Villa and QPR, Dunne knows all-too-well what separates the truly special from the merely elite and indeed man-marked this Sunday’s two main front men during the latter stages of his playing days. For the amiable Irishman there is simply no comparison.
“I played against Lukaku and Aguero and I know straight-up that the hardest opponent is Aguero. He’s just the greatest striker around. He is physically strong, he’s sharp, he can shoot from any distance and his movement is brilliant. He is the complete centre-forward and City have been blessed to have him for so long. The goals he has scored tells you everything you need to know about him and without doubt he’s one of the best Premier League strikers of all time.”
Widening the scope and looking ahead to Sunday the narrative surrounding this derby clash contrasts hugely with Dunne’s day when Sir Alex Ferguson’s team were in the ascendancy gobbling up silverware by the bucketful while City were consistently the relative paupers. Does he believe those days might return anytime soon with the Reds regaining the upper hand?
“As long as Pep is there and as long as they’re playing the way that they are you’d fancy Man City over Manchester United every single time. There has been a shift in the city over who is the most dominant team and City have the brighter future. Whether they admit it or not United are coming into the game on Sunday as underdogs.”
That is not to say however that United should be completely ruled out of contention in a domestic battle at the top that is becoming more and more enthralling with every passing week.
“I think United will improve over the course of the season and they will still have a say in things but towards the end they won’t be challenging for the league. You’ll be looking more towards Liverpool being the biggest threat this year and that’s because since Pep has come in football has changed and it’s now more about attacking.
Whereas United are still stuck in a situation where they are so desperate not to lose they forget to go and attack sometimes. Liverpool, City and Chelsea want to express themselves and win matches and that’s what the fans want to see and what makes this league so exciting.
Richard Dunne’s quick-fire questions
Score prediction for Sunday’s derby?
1-0 to City
Who will win the Premier League?
Who will win the Golden Boot?
Who will win the Champions League?