Once the team sheets were released, it should have been no surprise that Manchester United won at City at the weekend, as they have won every game that Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley have started together this season.
Ferguson has rotated his central midfielders freely throughout the year, but it is noticeable that for the tricky away games at Newcastle United, Chelsea and Manchester City, as well as the home match with Arsenal, he has turned to Cleverley and Carrick on each occasion, with four impressive wins as a result.
The pair have also started away at Southampton and at home to West Ham United, maintaining their 100% record in those matches as well. Whilst United clearly win more than they lose whoever starts in their midfield, it is impressive that the pair have delivered six wins out of six in such a tricky set of fixtures.
During that spell they have matched up against some of the best midfields in the league. With Cleverley and Carrick in the side when United won at Chelsea in the face of the attacking brilliance of Mata, Hazard and Oscar, before dominating Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla at Old Trafford the weekend after. At the weekend they matched up to Yaya Toure, Silva, Nasri and Barry, and once again United ended up collecting three points.
Whilst they are technically adept enough to be comfortable holding onto the ball for long spells, they are also adaptable enough to become more direct when United play on the break.
Neither is a typical midfield destroyer, but both are sufficiently mobile to ensure that United are not dominated by other sides in the centre of the pitch. Most importantly of all, the pairing naturally complement whatever attacking quartet Ferguson's sends out ahead of them, ensuring they have enough of the ball in dangerous areas to tear sides apart.
Whilst Manchester United's strike force is rightly the focus of the praise for their table-topping form, there is more credit due to the support given by Cleverley and Carrick in the key games Ferguson's side have won. Neither are as extravagantly talented as the players in front of them, but they are providing the base for the attacks that are winning United's matches, and shouldn't be overlooked.
image: © marcel sigg