Early Doors

How are these clowns seven points clear?

How is it possible that a football team as crassly inept as Manchester United can be seven points clear at the Premier League's halfway stage?

Despite two largely shambolic displays over Christmas, they are thundering towards 2013 bolstered by a Rik Waller-sized cushion over City.

United have 46 points - at this rate they'll finish on 92 - more than any team since Mourinho's Chelsea juggernaut plundered 95 in 2004/05.

In theory we are looking at one of the best teams ever. And yet look at them. Really, look at them.

Goalkeepers: A highly-promising but error-prone youngster with a dodgy beard who keeps getting dropped for a limited understudy whose only purpose seems to be to erode the other guy's confidence.

Defence: The biggest collection of crocks this side of a First World War sanatorium. It comes to something when a papier mache model of Rio Ferdinand has played more games than any other centre-back.

Midfield: United fans have been calling for Fergie to sign a top central midfielder to replace Paul Scholes for nearly a decade. Can we all just assume it won't happen? Scholes and Ryan Giggs should only ever be in the same side at a charity match. And even then they'd be getting run ragged by Jonathan Wilkes and Harvey out of So Solid Crew.

Forwards: OK, they're pretty good here. We can safely say, if it had not already been abundantly clear, that Robin van Persie is excellent at football.

And there you have it. Manchester United are a team blowing raspberries in the face of the conventional wisdom that you need to build your team on solid foundations.

They are little more than a bunch of excellent strikers routinely bailing out the gaffe-prone clowns at the back.

Fergie's chuntering over Mike Dean's decision to allow the second Newcastle goal at Old Trafford yesterday ignored one key fact - Jonny Evans didn't have to shin the ball into his own net.

Just as David De Gea didn't have to pat the ball into James Perch's stride, and the entire United side didn't have to leave Papiss Cisse unmarked 10 yards from goal. But hey, if there's an official you can blame - well, it'd be rude not to.

They have already conceded 28 goals - one fewer than City did in the whole of last season.

The United vintage they most resemble is the 2001/02 side, when the lamentable decision to swap Jaap Stam for a creaking Laurent Blanc led to defence-o-geddon - in this case 27 goals conceded in the first 15 games, of which they lost six.

But of course this side haven't lost six. In fact they have only failed to win four times, despite keeping all of three clean sheets in 19 goes.

They have spotted the opposition a goal no fewer than 11 times, yet ridiculously they have come back to win eight of those matches.

Alex Ferguson responded with a gruff "no" when asked if United can afford to continue going behind - but clearly they can.

It is this sort of thing that makes you wonder what will become of United when Ferguson does finally retire.

By any normal standard, they are a hopelessly imbalanced side with clear and urgent weaknesses.

They have less solidity than City, less creativity than Chelsea and arguably less depth than Tottenham. Even though the Glazers have blunted United in the transfer market, Ferguson could and should have addressed these issues, but he hasn't bothered.

Yet somehow he has them firmly on course to make it Liverpool+2 domestic titles.

Maybe, and Early Doors is going to go out on a limb here, the most successful manager in English football history does know what he's doing after all.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It was a blatant foul. I hate hearing managers moan about decisions and getting robbed. I don’t do that or slag referees off or moan about decisions. Once a year I might I might have the hump with a referee, I never knock on their door but that today was poor. Two vital decisions that would be so important to us went against us. How can the keeper play the ball when a fella is backing in over the line? He can’t get around him. If he pushes him over or out the way it’s a penalty. He had no intention of getting the ball he just wanted to stop the keeper getting to the ball. It was obstruction, how can it stand?" - Harry Redknapp not slagging referees off or moaning about decisions.

FOREIGN VIEW: Nigeria have hit out at Newcastle for not allowing Shola Ameobi to play at next month's Africa Cup of Nations.

Ameobi was named in Nigeria's preliminary squad coach Stephen Keshi but his Newcastle counterpart Alan Pardew said this week that the 31-year-old would not be travelling to South Africa.

"Alan Pardew knows he cannot stop Shola from going to the Nations Cup because the competition is sanctioned by FIFA," Keshi told the SuperSport television channel.

"I don't know what is in his head or what he is thinking about. I have never spoken to Alan Pardew in my life, I have only seen him on television."

Pardew had said: "Shola won't be going. The national team manager knows the reasons - which I am keeping to myself."