The outlook of Manchester United’s recent week in the premier league looked grim a couple of weeks ago. If the home game against Brighton was dismissed as a banker, the same couldn’t quite be said of a programme that included away games at Watford and at Arsenal.
Under the able leadership of Marcos Silva, Watford have emerged as that mid-tabe team none of the big boys want to play against. At Vicarage Road, they have already claimed four points from games against Liverpool and Arsenal. And judging by how United went about business against Brighton at Old Trafford, there was little confidence that United would come away from the twin trips with the title race still intact. Factor in the fact that the club’s lead striker is struggling for goals and it didn’t particularly bode well for United on the road for the week to come. And yet, such is City’s stranglehold of the leadership of the league that United went into those games under concerted pressure to keep winning.
That United came away from the past week with all six points and seven goals scored was no mean feat whichever way you look at it. In winning at Watford and at Arsenal, United exhibited a ruthlessness in front of goal that firmly puts to bed the fear that their profligacy in front of goal last season will return to haunt them this season. On Tuesday at Watford, United hit the back of the net four times from the 7 shots they mustered on target! At the Emirates on Saturday, United scored three times from their four on target.
Whilst United have scored plenty of goals this season especially earlier in the season, they were often a product of a plethora of chances created. On Tuesday, Ashley Young gave United the lead against the run of play. It was probably United’s first real threat to Gomes’ goal. And on the theme continued throughout the night. Every occasional attack from United seemed to result in a goal and only serve to deflate Watfords’ spirit further.
On Saturday at the Emirates, Jose Mourinho will not be happy with the fact that Arsenal managed 33 shots at David De Gea’s goal but was immensely pleased that United reaped three goals from their four on target. It will not be lost on the manager that the team was unchanged for both victories. Lingard’s floating position in the 10 coupled with the twin threat of Martial and Lukaku up top has thrived. The trio’s enterprise has been knitted together by Paul Pogba who, unfortunately gets to sit out the club’s most important game of the season.
For all the jibes about Mourinho’s boring football, Valencia’s opener at the Emirates was United’s 50th goal in all competitions this season in 23 games. United have achieved this feat six games quicker than last season and 13 games quicker than in the 2015-16 season under Louis van Gaal. Quite how this ruthlessness is maintained in the absence of the Frenchman remains to be seen but it has served to keep United in the best possible position they could get themselves in ahead of Sunday’s showdown.
Goals aside, United’s points coefficient at the moment projects them to finish with as many as 90 points. Except that it may not be enough to win the league because City’s is higher. If we were looking for major progress this season from a 6th place finish last season, it’s fair to say that heading into December, we are so far on the right track. In that respect, credit at this stage is merited, not misguided.