There’s no getting away from the fact that Manchester United have endured a frustratingly inconsistent start to the Premier League season. The recent win over Everton was a showcase of how good the Red Devils can be on their day as three-time Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti became the latest big-name manager to succumb to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Superb wins over Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig in the Champions League also showcase the potential within this squad.
However, the win over an Everton side that was touted as potential title challengers just a few weeks ago does little to erase the memory of defeats such as those against Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Crystal Palace.
The international break will have allowed Solskjaer to take stock of what may or may not be going right. United will face West Brom on November 21 at Old Trafford in a match which would normally be considered a formality for the home side.
Except this is a Manchester United side that have forgotten how to win at home in the Premier League, with the last triumph on home turf coming in a 5-2 victory over Bournemouth in July. Since then, Southampton, West Ham, Crystal Palace, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal have all left the Theatre of Dreams with at least a point.
Yet, in stark contrast, United haven’t dropped points on the road since the 1-1 draw with Tottenham in the first game after lockdown in June, and we would have to go back to January’s 2-0 defeat at Anfield to witness the last time Solskjaer took charge of an away defeat in the Premier League.
It is true that this is a season like no other. The absence of fans cannot be understated but the fact remains that United’s home form is far from good enough. The 2-0 win over Manchester City in the final game at Old Trafford before the Premier League came to a halt in March showed just how important the fans are, almost sucking the ball into the net for Scott McTominay’s last-minute strike.
United currently find themselves languishing in 14th position, albeit with a game in hand on most other teams in the league. Their away form is the fourth-best in the league after taking maximum points from three fixtures, although they have played a game less than Leicester and Tottenham who both have four wins from four. Only Burnley, however, have a worse record on their own patch.
United only have three Premier League fixtures at home between now and Christmas, against West Brom, Manchester City and old rivals Leeds United. Realistically, nothing less than seven points would be the expectation here if Solskjaer wants his side to climb the table.
United showed just how ruthless they can be after the Christmas break last season, due in part to the arrival of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon. Last Christmas saw the club lying in eighth position in the table, 14 points adrift of second placed Leicester. It is now well known that United finally finished third after somehow clawing back that point deficit to finish above the Foxes, who dropped out the top four altogether.
Interestingly, it is Leicester who currently sit top of the tree, eight points above United, having played a game more. There is yet to be a team who has threatened to break away from the chasing pack and, if Solskjaer can sort out the lack of consistency, there is no reason why United couldn’t launch a serious title challenge.
It is obvious that both Liverpool and Manchester City are better than Manchester United but, with City also struggling and Liverpool’s injury problems mounting up, there is absolutely no reason why they cannot become a significant threat to their north west rivals – but only if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can solve his Old Trafford conundrum.
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