Take the final score of the game last Saturday out of the equation and you’re left with pretty much everything about Manchester United that we saw just over a month ago in a shock defeat at Huddersfield Town. Like then, United seemed to struggle to motivate themselves for the visit of newly promoted Brighton & Hove Albion. And that is despite the manager sticking to a line-up filled with the fantasy attacking outlook many have called for in recent weeks.
Indeed, the question about United’s dearth of creativity at the weekend has to factor in the fact that just about all of the club’s attacking resources were available on the pitch. The answer is probably not an easy one but the manager sought to use this uncertainty of situation to explain away the dangers of being ”too attack minded” [if you like]. Indeed, some would say that the manager’s stance at full-time was psychological preparation for squad selection for stern assignments against Arsenal and Manchester City to come within the next fortnight.
Ultimately, Saturday ended on a positive note, with victory ensuring that City’s leadership of the league would not increase to double-digits until at least the next match-day. And on weekend in which three of the five big boys dropped points, it turned out to be a quite handy ugly three points. Except that it didn’t entirely go according to the script. This was supposed to, in the least, follow the narrative of four-goal hauls the club has been synonymous with this season. If only to fill the boots with confidence ahead of a testing week.
As it were, United head into Tuesday’s visit to Watford in nothing short of uncertain form. It’s a conclusion based on fact. The last 5 games in all competitions read WLWLW. It is a credit that the Reds remain the second best team in the country according to the league standings, but much of that status will be put to the test in the coming weeks, starting Tuesday at a venue where the Reds lost last season in one of the worst Jose Mourinho performances todate.
Watford have emerged as the ‘dark horse’ of the new season and therefore represent everything dangerous Brighton showed United except that their threat carries venom too. There will be no reprieve in that respect when United travel to the Emirates at the weekend, another venue where all three points were surrendered last season. In effect, six points out of six in the next couple of games will not only be massive in the context of United improving from last season but also serve to lift the club to the challenge that will be posed when the Manchester derby comes round in a little over 10 days. At the moment, there is a danger of being sucked into a rat race in the places just below United. Steering clear of the threat from below will be just as important as chasing the summit.
Ahead of the month of December, United appear to be near full strength with the long-term absentees all returning to fitness. Therefore there can only be a few qualms can be raised about a failure to rise to the challenge ahead. As it is, you’d imagine that the players do not need motivation to perform based on their take home pay but if there is a prevailing desire for motivation, they only have to look at the gap between themselves and top spot. If that can’t get them putting in an extra shift, perhaps nothing will.