Manchester United beat Aston Villa 2-1 at Old Trafford on New Year’s Day to take them level on points with Liverpool at the top of the Premier League.
It was unthinkable two months ago that Manchester United would be in such a position. It has been a very strange season, majorly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United have hit some form of late.
The Red Devils started the campaign poorly, losing 3-1 at home to Crystal Palace. They suffered a heavy 6-1 defeat to Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham and also lost against Arsenal at Old Trafford while drawing with Chelsea. However, in contrast, United had an amazing start to the Champions League, beating the last season’s finalists and semi-finalists—Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig—respectively. But all those wins were flattering to deceive as Solskjaer’s side suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at Istanbul Basaksehir.
United needed just a point in the final two games to book a spot in the Champions League round of 16 but they failed to do so, leaving Solskjaer very frustrated. However, they have responded very well since then and are unbeaten in the league since their November 1 defeat at home to Arsenal. Remarkably, Solskjaer’s side can go top of the table with just a point from their game in hand against Burnley on January 12.
As things stand, the Red Devils are very much in the title race and that should give their fans a lot of optimism ahead of a busy schedule. Here’s a look at three reasons why United have a chance to win the Premier League this season.
Excellent away form
United are yet to taste defeat away from home in the league so far this season, winning six out of seven games. It is noteworthy considering their performances have been far from perfect. In back-to-back wins against Southampton and West Ham, Solskjaer’s side were reeling at half-time as they looked more of a mid-table team than title contenders. Somehow, they found ways to win which typifies a shift in the players’ mentality.
Such away form has given Solskjaer’s men a lot of confidence and if they start hitting form at Old Trafford, this United team can go places.
Strong squad depth
For any team to challenge for the league title and other trophies, having quality squad depth is vital. In a gruelling season where injuries and suspensions are part and parcel of the game, Solskjaer and co. are better placed than most to cope.
Apart from Phil Jones’ injury, the Red Devils have a clean bill of health. The return of Eric Bailly from injury has been a welcome boost in defence and United have reaped rewards from having a fast centre-back to complement skipper Harry Maguire.
The likes of Brandon Williams and Jesse Lingard have barely played this season, while Solskjaer is easing summer signing Donny Van de Beek into English football. Two amazing young talents Amad Diallo and Facundo Pellestri could get game time in the second half of the campaign, while experienced pros like Edinson Cavani and Alex Telles have added quality and competition within the squad.
With the January transfer window now open, Solskjaer also has an opportunity to further bolster his squad to cope with the fixture list, with FA Cup and Europa League soon to start.
The ‘X-factor’ Bruno Fernandes
The signing of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon last January has transformed United from being an average to an exciting side. Before his arrival, Solskjaer’s team were lethargic, predictable and bereft of ideas to carve open opposition defences. Now, United are playing some of the best football post Sir Alex Ferguson era, with the playmaker the beating heart of the team.
Fernandes, who has adapted to English football like a duck to water, has 18 goal contributions (11 goals and 7 assists) in 16 league games, forming a strong understanding with the likes of Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial. Also, United have largely benefited from the Portuguese international’s never-say-die-attitude and leadership qualities, on and off the pitch.
If Solskjaer can keep Fernandes fit, happy, hungry and firing, United will have a better chance to bring the title home after eight long years.
United still remain huge underdogs and have few things to go their way but if Solskjaer’s side can sort their home form and somehow go on a 10-12 game winning run, no one can stop their icy hands from lifting the no.21!