Defeat at the start of the month against Chelsea briefly dampened Manchester United’s title challenge. The five point deficit from the summit by close of October quickly became eight. With the squad stretched for fitness by injuries and Lukaku struggling to find form, the manager found solace in his returnees for the home game against Newcastle. Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Marcos Rojo were available again for selection.
And what a welcome it turned out to be! Paul Pogba’s return to the first team on the occasion would also be the first time the manager sent out a team featuring Martial, Rashford and Lukaku. It was not far from the lineup play station geeks would have selected if this was nothing more than a video game.
The attacking performance that followed was a timely throwback to the awesome foursome days at the start of the season in which United couldn’t help but score four. That Paul Pogba turned in a man of the match performance served to highlight how much the team, and indeed the fans had missed him. Suddenly, new life was breathed into the season. So much so that defeat in Basel in the Champions League didn’t necessarily spoil the feel good factor back at the club.
Except that the performance levels filled for the visit of Brighton & Hove Albion. Quite simply, United got out of jail in that one. Much like what we witnessed at Huddersfield, United seemingly failed to motivate themselves against a promoted side. Consistency in application therefore remains elusive. And it probably explains United’s contrasting performances if not results in the month. Indeed, the performance against Brighton had a few Reds uncertain about the mid-week trip to Watford.
Marcos Silva has fashioned Watford into formidable mid-table opposition, the kind that would gladly punish the complacency United offered at the weekend before. Except that in keeping with the uncertainty in form at the club, United were brilliant in execution at Watford. An emphatic win against tricky opposition served to, on the whole, make November a decent month. Three premier league out of four was the reasonable expectation when the trip to Stamford Bridge is factored in.
It also means that ahead of the make or break month of December, United remain the league’s best hope for a title race. To be in with a shout heading into the festive month is a position we’d have taken at the start of the season. If City are resolute in their position as league leaders, United remain the force that just won’t go away. Having been in their position a few times down the premier league years, we know all too well how that can be nagging if not unsettling.