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goal shy None of Man United's front men compare to poachers like Law, Van Nistelrooy and Van Persie

Red Devils don’t have that ‘sniffer’ striker and it's costing them in the big games

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Marcus Rashford of Manchester United celebrates after scoring his side's third goal against Real Sociedad

Marcus Rashford of Manchester United celebrates after scoring his side's third goal against Real Sociedad

Marcus Rashford of Manchester United celebrates after scoring his side's third goal against Real Sociedad

EVEN if something should go wrong for Manchester City at Arsenal this afternoon, I still can’t see any team catching them at the top of the Premier League come the finish in May.

The way City went to Everton last Wednesday and won, with a bit to spare, was the mark of true champions.

Going to Goodison Park, to play an Everton team having a decent season, is just the sort of tricky match you must win as potential champions.

City did it in style, and with star striker Sergio Aguero out long-term, and playmaker Kevin De Bruyne missing in the short term.

But have they missed their brilliant Belgian creator? Not at all, because Phil Foden has stepped up, with a huge amount of flair and skill, to the task of replacing him.

Fair dues to Pep Guardiola who has nurtured the England starlet’s young career, slowly but surely, a game here, a game there.

But without ever rushing the Stockport lad while he wasn’t physically ready for the big time.

And Foden still looks about 12, mind you! Pep is reaping the rewards of that caution now.

Foden looks like a hell of a player and it was interesting to hear Pep say a few months ago, that, even though Manchester City are not short of money, “every one of our players has his price. But not Phil Foden, he is not for sale.”

While City power on to another league win, their neighbours stumble on.

If City winning at Everton was the mark of Premier League winners, then Manchester United dropping two points at hapless West Brom last Sunday was the mark of a team that won’t be winning the crown any time soon.

Okay, any team can concede a goal early. But when Bruno Fernandes got United back in the match on the stroke of half-time, my first thought was ‘right, we’ll kick on and we’ll flatten them in the second half.’

Eh no, what we got was more laboured play from the Red Devils as they struggled to break down relegation-bound West Brom.

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Edinson Cavani has added some experience to United's line-up

Edinson Cavani has added some experience to United's line-up

Edinson Cavani has added some experience to United's line-up

It was more of the inconsistency of performance that we have seen from United, week after week, all through this strange season.

I’ve always argued that one reason for the ‘strangeness’ of it all is the lack of crowds.

And I genuinely believe that is helping United right now, because the team is not having to deal with the frustration of the supporters that would otherwise be rolling down from the Old Trafford seats or the away end at other encounters.

I can’t help but compare United’s young attacking trio of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood, all of them brilliant when they get going, to Liverpool’s Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, three mature players at the height of their powers.

Yes, United’s lads have the experience of Edinson Cavani to call on at the training ground and during matches.

But there are just too many games where United’s trio do not come up with a decent level of performance.

They just don’t play well week after week. I know Liverpool’s lads have had a few weeks where nothing went right for them.

But they are entitled to that after three years of delivering week after week, game after game.

And it was Salah and Mane who came up with the goods for Liverpool against Leipzig last Tuesday.

I wonder will that win turn out to have been a big one in the Scousers’ season.

I can’t help thinking, too, that none of Manchester United’s current attackers, Cavani included, fit the mould of a ‘fox in the box’ – the sort of attacker who will poach you a goal from nowhere.

Manchester United have always had a tradition of using such a player.

Think back all the way to Denis Law, to the current manager himself, to Ruud van Nistelrooy and another Dutch destroyer in Robin van Persie.

All players who scored the majority of their goals when well inside the six-yard box.

United don’t have that ‘sniffer’ striker now and I believe it is costing them in the big games.

They will surely beat Newcastle today and put my old pal Steve Bruce, the Newcastle boss, in even hotter waters.

Brucey is one of the nicest people in the game, dealing with a situation at his club that would defy anyone’s professional pride and sense of diplomacy too.

It must be very hard when the owner wants to sell the club.

But, because he does, Mike Ashley now wants the manager to run it successfully on a shoestring.

That can’t be done in the Premier League. You have to keep reinvesting in good players to stay in the division.

But Steve is being asked to keep the Magpies flying without a budget to get better players.

Steve must have breathed easily a few weeks ago, when Sheffield United, West Brom and Fulham were all well adrift at the bottom of the Premier League and all heading for relegation – it seemed.

Not any more. The Magpies haven’t picked up many points and Fulham have gone on a little run that means they started this weekend just six points behind a labouring Newcastle.

The London club has all the momentum in the fight for safety that Newcastle doesn’t.

It’s a scenario that can see a season get away from a team and you have to think that tonight’s match will end the same as most of Newcastle’s recent outings – they will play well and lose.

United will pick up the points and carry on in vain pursuit of their cross-town rivals.

In truth, getting the three points is really another step on the road to finishing in the top four of this season’s Premier League and so getting into next season’s Champions League.

That has to be the bottom line for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Right now his team is not good enough to win a Premier League – but they had better be good enough to finish second, third or fourth.

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