MANCHESTER, England: With three shutout wins in three games, Sven-Goran Eriksson is back and already in first place in the Premier League.Sunday’s 1-0 victory over crosstown rival Manchester United was the perfect result for Man City’s new manager, who is casting off the reputation he tarnished during his stint as England coach.
Although the win capped City’s best start to a Premier League campaign, that couldn’t necessarily be detected on the face of the notoriously ice-cool Swede.“Of course I like the situation,” Eriksson said. “It’s quite a young and new team and this was a big test today. We can stand up to the champions — that’s important.”But Eriksson’s hastily assembled new recruits had to fight hard for the result, with United controlling the match and producing more scoring opportunities.
City defender Micah Richards and young goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel did much to stifle United’s relentless advance.City was rattled for the opening 30 minutes, with Nani coming close twice for the visitors and setting up Patrice Evra with a backheel. But Michael Johnson’s shot that went over the crossbar from long-range was the necessary spark to inspire City.
In the 32nd, Brazilian midfielder Geovanni scored his second goal of the season with a shot from 25 meters (yards) that deflected off United defender Nemanja Vidic and curled past goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.“We’ve come out and shown the fans we can do it,” Richards said. “We can beat anyone.”City leads the league with nine points — two more than Chelsea.
Eriksson is hoping to lower expectations, refusing to set any targets until he puts the finishing touches to his squad, bankrolled by former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.“We have a long, long way to go still to be a top team, but here we are and we are fighting,” Eriksson said.Despite strikers Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sidelined with injuries, and winger Cristiano Ronaldo suspended, United was more effective in producing scoring opportunities.
“Today was the most difficult game (so far),” Eriksson said. “If you can have points on possession of the ball and shots off target and on target we would have lost. But we scored a goal and they didn’t.”Victory would have been all the sweeter for Eriksson, coming against long-standing adversary Alex Ferguson.
The Scottish manager’s record summer spending spree made United seem certain to retain its league title. Now the Old Trafford veteran is experiencing his second-worst Premier League start with his team producing just one goal and two points in three games.
Ferguson even gave 19-year-old Frazer Campbell his debut in the 73rd, burdening the striker — fresh from a loan spell at Antwerp — with the task of producing a late equalizer.“We had enough chances and played fantastic football at times,” Ferguson said. “We were just wasteful. We had so many opportunities to win it ourselves. I can’t fault the performance. We completely dominated, but we should have sewn the game up.
“In addition to Nani’s wasted opportunities, Vidic hit the crossbar, Paul Scholes shot wide and Carlos Tevez sent a header from Ryan Giggs’ corner wide in the 90th.United is below City in the table for the first time after a derby since 1978.“We’ve got ourselves an uphill battle,” Ferguson said. “We need to get a win under our belts.”The next opportunity for his dejected players is next Sunday against Tottenham — another side failing to live up to high expectations.Eriksson can extend his perfect record with a victory at Arsenal on Saturday.
If the Swede earns another three points, England fans will be wondering where he went wrong in nearly six years at the helm of the national side.