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EXCLUSIVE Man City have rebuilt from the back with the arrival of Ruben Dias but their rivals United and Pool have soft centres

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Ruben Dias has been in sensational form for Man City (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Ruben Dias has been in sensational form for Man City (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Manchester United's Harry Maguire has not formed a solid partnership with Victor Lindelof or Eric Bailly (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Manchester United's Harry Maguire has not formed a solid partnership with Victor Lindelof or Eric Bailly (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

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Ruben Dias has been in sensational form for Man City (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Manchester United’s defeat by Sheffield United on Wednesday was no surprise to me. No matter who United are playing, they give up opportunities. They don’t start on the front foot, they seem to be proud of the fact that they can come from 1-0 down to win, as if it is something to boast about.

But you can’t keep going a goal behind, as you will eventually get found out.

All season they have been winning games but I have no idea how they were doing it. And once they lost, it’s a case of ‘well, that was coming’.

United need to change their mentality, they need to be switched on from the start, not come back into a game when they are losing.

Their problem is that they don’t have a central defensive partnership good enough to win a Premier League. It’s been two from Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly and Harry Maguire but they never look secure.

United have improved and you can see there is something happening there, they are going in the right direction. But the aim has to be to buy a centre half they can rely on, as City have done with Ruben Dias.

In the United defence right now, neither Maguire nor Lindelof is particularly quick. Bailly has that bit of pace about him but he is too erratic, and that causes its own problems.

They need to find a central defensive pairing who complement each other really well – two players they can trust to defend, calm defenders who can lead and organise the rest of the team.

It should be a case where the midfield and attacking players can look to the back and just think, ‘yeah, we’re alright today’ – instead they have a unit they just can’t rely on.

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Manchester United's Harry Maguire has not formed a solid partnership with Victor Lindelof or Eric Bailly (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Manchester United's Harry Maguire has not formed a solid partnership with Victor Lindelof or Eric Bailly (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Manchester United's Harry Maguire has not formed a solid partnership with Victor Lindelof or Eric Bailly (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

And meanwhile, Manchester City will be very, very hard to stop. I can’t see any weakness in the City side. This is a strange season, all you need is one Covid-19 outbreak in the squad and you have a major problem. I think City’s issue over the last few seasons has been when the Champions League resumes, all their focus and energy seems to go on that, and they will have to cope with that.

But looking at it now, on a game-by-game basis, no one else is playing the football that City are. No one else is creating chances like them, they look to be a far happier squad than anyone else in the top six.

The 5-2 defeat to Leicester in September was a shambles for City. But it’s what they did next that counts – they went out and bought Dias and he has been brilliant for them.

I think he has changed that City team, helped get the best form out of John Stones.

I know City lost to Tottenham when Dias was in the side but, that apart, they have been very solid and hard to score against.

With the way they play, City will always create chances, they are now looking so confident going forward because they are so solid at the back.

Dias isn’t what you’d consider a typical Guardiola player. He’s solid, he is good on the ball, but his first job is to defend.

I was impressed with his first interview at the club when he said, “I’m a winner, I am a leader”.

City didn’t want another ball-playing centre back, they needed a central defender who could defend, who had that mentality of keeping a clean sheet, keeping his focus on doing that and leaving it to the attacking players to score.

It started with that solidity and grew from there. Laporte got injured, Stones came in and the two of them have had a great partnership.

It’s not far off what Liverpool did with Virgil van Dijk. Once they got Van Dijk in, everything else seemed to just work well.

If you look at Liverpool, their central defensive pairing is Van Dijk – when fit – and either Matip or Gomez. I have never been hugely convinced by either of them. So, to me, Liverpool have one ‘name’ centre back, but they need two. We know Matip is injury-prone and he’s always been seen as back-up.

And while the injury to Gomez is unfortunate timing, he’s a young centre back who needs an experienced player beside him. I don’t see him as being ready for what they need now.

It has turned into a crisis at Liverpool with three of them being injured – and from what I have seen of Neco Williams and Nathaniel Phillips, they are nowhere near the quality needed to replace Van Dijk.

City look like a side who are taking great pleasure in keeping clean sheets, they have Joao Cancelo able to move from full back into central midfield, and they have that tactical nous that everyone else seems to be lacking. City were always vulnerable to counter-attacks, now with Dias in the side they stop them before they start.

Manchester United don’t have that, and neither do Liverpool, with Van Dijk out injured.

City are now starting to move up the gears, they have been brilliant to watch in the last few weeks.

I do some work for Manchester City TV so I have been lucky enough to get to see them in the flesh: I saw them against Birmingham City in the FA Cup and Aston Villa in the league, and I’ll be at their game tomorrow against Sheffield United. They were outstanding in the two games I was at.

Seeing games on TV is fine but when you watch them live, you get to see the individual quality of every player.

You also see how they move as a unit and it’s frightening at times.

They are growing as a team, their confidence is high at a time when everyone else in the top six is being tested, and even though they have lost Kevin De Bruyne, they have clicked. Every other team has problems, but it’s all falling City’s way now.

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