It’s now very apparent that Manchester United have made progress this season from last. Victories against the ‘teams we should beat’ means that the club have effectively moved on from the most damaging aspect about them last term. Granted, this means that United should at least challenge for the title this season. The 24 point gap between the club and the Champions last season is effectively wiped out by turning the catalogue of draws into wins. As such, you could logically argue that United should be within no more than five points from the eventual Champions come May.
That argument will be improved, confirmed or will collapse on its weight over the next month and a half of football. for it is in October and November, that United’s title credentials will begin to be severely tested. In October, those tests will come no bigger than when domestic football resumes with a lunchtime visit to the old enemy, Liverpool (A).
Unfortunately for the neutral, international football commitments and or injury mean that we are unlikely to get either side at full strength. United will already be without a full selection of central midfielders whilst Liverpool have freshly lost Sadio Mane, arguably their most effective, if not best, player. Still, this is a North-West derby that should test United more than they’ve been in recent domestic matches. Suffice it is to say that we’ll know more about United this term after this one.
United’s European campaign resumes soon-after with a trip to Portugal against a Benfica (A) side that is a far cry in terms of quality from what we’ve known in recent years. Indeed, we have to keep reminding ourselves that they were the seeded team in Group A! Having watched them get steamrolled by FC Basel on Match-Day 2, United should be able to pick up an away win of any kind to effectively put one foot in the Round of 16.
The travelling theme during the month will resume at the weekend next, this time to West Yorkshire in England to take on newly promoted Huddersfield Town (A) at the John Smith Stadium. If it is true that United have gotten over their nasty habit of dropping points against teams they should beat, victory in this one should not be too much to ask for.
Incredibly, despite a change of competition for the third time in the month, United will still be on the road, this time to Swansea City (A) in the League Cup…or Carabao Cup if you mind the sponsors. A look at the weekend opposition soon-after suggests that Jose Mourinho could make as many as 11 changes for this one. Not that those who partake will not be expected to win. Far from it! We now know that the manager, much like the fans, values every opportunity available to lift silverware. And if that silverware is in the shape of a Carabao Cup, we’ll take it!
United will finally be at Old Trafford again on the following weekend, but the opposition will hardly make it feel like home. Why? Well, Tottenham Hotspur (H) themselves are homesick. Wembley has taken on a charmed feel that has made it inexplicably difficult to pick up routine home points. Thankfully for them, not every game is played at home, and so they’ve managed to use away days to rack up wins that have kept them just about in touching distance of the league leadership. You can imagine therefore that they’ll be desperate for the points at Old Trafford, if only because of the ‘Wembley results’ they could have posted by that point.
Finally, the expectation will be that United book their ticket to the last 16 in Europe in the home game against SL Benfica (H) at the end of the month. Without sounding casual and dismissive about a Champions League fixture, the opposition in the group is not one the club should struggle to get past if the target is to make the latter stages of the competition.
They’ll be lots of travel in October, allowing for plenty of occasions to have the magnificent travelling Red Army of fans behind the club in England and abroad, and given what we’ve come to expect from United so far, a clean sweep of victories over the month is not beyond the firepower and resilience in this team. The momentum build over the first couple of months in the season should be retained in October. There’s little reason to believe otherwise.