Monday, 18 January 2021

Player ratings vs Liverpool: Defence excellent but attack struggles

 Manchester United remained top of the Premier League after a goalless draw at Anfield in the 205th competitive meeting between the sides. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side will be content with a point but will also feel one point could have been three.
Here, we run the rule over those in Red (or, more accurately, gray), as we retained both our leadership of the league and our points advantage over the out-of-form champions. 

David de Gea - 6

You would expect a very busy afternoon for an opposing goalkeeper at Anfield, but this curiously wasn't the case with most of the Spaniard's work coming from long-range pot shots and clearing his lines. Had Roberto Firmino not left his shooting boots at home, De Gea would have been troubled more but, as it was, he had very little to do. Made one good stop to deny Thiago from distance in the second half. 

Aaron Wan - Bissaka - 7

Shackled Sadio Mane with trademark tenacity and had a few moments going forward. Perhaps could have conceded a penalty in a clash with Salah late on, but dealt with Mane and Robertson - probably the best left flank in the country - with diligence. Typically solid, nothing flashy but good in the tackle and, as usual, excellent when one-on-one. 

Victor Lindelof - 8

Surprisingly and somewhat contentiously picked ahead of the recently excellent Eric Bailly, Lindelof justified his selection with a magnificent showing. Seemed drawn to the ball like a magnet, and made a sensational, colossal, match-saving clearance with ten minutes to go and Roberto Firmino set to pounce. The thought of his and Maguire's lack of pace against two of the quickest forwards in the league terrified me, but fair play to Solskjaer for getting this selection right. Fair play to the Iceman too for an excellent performance. 

Harry Maguire - 8

A few shaky moments and lost the ball needlessly once or twice, but good in the air, organised well and generally solid. If you're a centre-back and you get a clean sheet at Anfield, you will always get a good rating. Having been superb alongside Bailly in recent weeks, Lindelof coming back in did not hinder Maguire at all. In fact, this was one of the best games the two have had together in a pair at the back. 

Luke Shaw - 10 

A sensational, virtuoso masterclass and the best player on the pitch by a considerable distance. Shut down Mo Salah and later Mane magnificently and linked the play brilliantly to create our two best chances with overlapping runs. This was probably Shaw's best ever game in the Red of United. Magnificent in defence and attack, he was absolutely flawless. Cleared everything, never missed a tackle, made six interceptions and never stopped running. A dominant and decisive man of the match showing. A player in the finest of fettles and shone like a beacon amidst a galaxy of stars. 

Scott McTominay - 7

Over-run and outmuscled by Thiago in early stages as his opposite number dictated the play and set the tempo. Could McTominay perhaps have done better to shut down the Spaniard? Maybe, but to his credit he grew into the game and himself started to pull the strings as United's midfield held their own. Dropped into the back four when out of possession and had a couple of surging runs forward. The ultimate big-game player, his importance is evident for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. 

Fred - 6

Solid if unspectacular, Fred looked a little flustered at times under Liverpool's high press. This was a middling performance - nothing amazing but nothing awful. His usual consistent self, combative and put a shift in. Never gives anything less than his all, he was tireless and his composure improved as the game went on. Very similar in style to his cohort McTominay, the pair are perfect partners against top class sides. 

Paul Pogba - 6

Stationed wide on the right, this was a bits and pieces performance from the Pog. Having put in a man of the match showing at Burnley in midweek, Pogba looks noticeably happier, working hard for the team and putting a shift in despite his unfamiliar position. Covered for Wan - Bissaka and opened Liverpool up with some good passing. Smashed straight at Alisson in our best opening. Anonymous at times, influential at others. 

Bruno Fernandes - 5

Billed as United's most important player and touted as the key to Anfield victory, Fernandes was disappointing. On his first appearance against Liverpool, he often tried too hard and snatched at anything meaningful. His contributions ranged from the profligate to the sloppy to the over-ambitious. Went close with a free-kick and did get involved in the game, but should have done better with his late effort from a Shaw pull-back. Reacted petulantly after getting subbed to sum up his worst game for a while. 

Marcus Rashford - 3

Showed naivety, indiscipline and a baffling lack of understanding
with the offside flag, getting caught out four times before the interval. Devoid of quality and influence, he failed to play in Cavani when three on two, his shooting was wasteful and he was anonymous. Played as the furthest man forward before Cavani came on, but failed to make the most of it. Had a shocker. 

Anthony Martial - 4

Ineffective from the left, Martial did nothing to suggest he should be our starting no.9. An injury doubt coming into the tie, this was a tepid and anonymous showing. There was one fleeting first half moment when he burst clear and threw in a nutmeg, but failed to build on that and was hooked for Cavani after an hour. Failed to fire and didn't do enough to test Liverpool's makeshift centre-halves.

Subs - Edinson Cavani - for Martial, 60 mins - 5

Showed some nice touches and offered something different as a focal point of the attack. But United never quite managed to get him in the game and he often dropped deep to collect the ball. 

Mason Greenwood - for Fernandes 89 - N/A

Came on for a fuming Fernandes late on. No rating.

Mixed emotions for Solskjaer's United after Anfield stalemate

Manchester United emerged unscathed from an exacting test at Anfield with both the leadership of the league and our advantage over the champions still intact.
It was in stark contrast to our last visit in the corresponding fixture a year ago almost to the day, when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side beat a hasty retreat after a loss that left us trailing in the unstoppable wake of the soon-to-be champions. A day in which the Scousers opened up a yawning 30-point chasm, their fans became increasingly unbearable and left us simultaneously wondering when, or indeed whether, we'd ever reel them in.

The notion United could even contemplate winning the Premier League - or even figure in a title-winning conversation - was the stuff of fantasy. Even the most ardent red-tinted fan would never have considered it.
But yet, twelve months on, this 0-0 draw left United top of the pile and three points ahead of the team who won the league so impressively last term. 
A 38-game season is a marathon, not a sprint, and there, is of course, still a long way to run. But the sight of Manchester United at the top and leaving Anfield - where Liverpool haven't lost for almost four years in the league - with no damage inflicted will bolster confidence and self-belief for the mammoth, defining months ahead.

There isn't a Manchester United fan alive who wouldn't have accepted a point at Liverpool before the game. As already mentioned, Jurgen Klopp's side haven't been beaten there in 68 games and the Reds themselves hadn't tasted victory down the east Lancs road for five years. We'd have snapped your hand off for a point. 

As the dust settles on the game, that's still the case - I'm still more than happy at a point, avoiding defeat was the aim and a draw there is never to be sniffed at. But yet, there is a lingering sense of disappointment in that we were unable to claim victory. That, in itself, shows the extent of the progress we have made and how far this side has come. It also shows United are not quite there, yet. Viewed from this perspective, and with midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson at centre-back -  you could almost claim that this was a huge opportunity missed - United's best chance in years for victory at Anfield has gone begging.  United had the best chances through Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba. Had the Frenchman put his late effort either side of Liverpool keeper Alisson - instead of straight at the Brazilian - then we'd be sitting here proclaiming a late, great, famous victory. 

Of course, there were mitigating factors. The lack of a crowd and Anfield's famous atmosphere - usually at its most unwelcoming when United are in town. Liverpool are feeling the bite of a lengthy injury list and a team that swept all before them are on a dry spell in front of goal - having failed to score in three consecutive league games for the first time since 2005. 
In the current reckoning, though, United sitting top of the table at the halfway stage of the season and after a trip to Anfield is a situation Solskjaer would have accepted. He certainly would have taken it after that game a year ago.

Whereas before Solskjaer and the players would have gladly been happy with the outcome not so long ago, the United boss and his players were clearly disappointed at full-time having failed to pilfer those three points. A realistic reflection on events and a sign that we're moving in the right direction. There's a significant mentality shift at the club now. 

For all their critics, United have a realistic shot at winning the title this season, despite the fact Manchester City are looking scarily ominous at present. We must grasp this opportunity and show greater ambition and boldness than we did for much of the game here. United never seemed to truly believe that victory was tangibly within reach at Anfield. The questions that surround United and Solskjaer's ability over winning when it matters will continue to linger until we can prove otherwise - but there is plenty to build on and the improvement is clear.

Fernandes was making his debut in this fixture but his usual metronomic radar failed to fire, epitomised by his less than gracious reaction to being hooked in the closing stages. United's heroes were elsewhere in the form of captain Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, absolutely magnificent and a comfortable winner in his personal battle with Mo Salah. Shaw was the best player on the pitch across both sides by a country mile. 

United and Solskjaer will be happier - but the true context of this result will only become evident in the weeks ahead. What cannot be argued is that this side is growing and is one unrecognisable from the one that left Anfield last January. 

Sunday, 17 January 2021

Match report: Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United

Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba squandered chances for a famous late win at Anfield but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side retained top spot with a well-earned draw.
Having gone down 2-0 in the corresponding fixture last season, Solskjaer's United showed vast improvement against an admittedly out-of-sorts Liverpool and the Norwegian will be the happier of the two managers. A draw was a fair result, and we'd certainly have taken a point beforehand, but the fact we were left slightly disappointed shows how far we've come.

Alisson twice saved superbly from point-blank range to deny Pogba and Fernandes, thwarting the latter with his foot late on as United came closest to a winner.
In truth, a draw was probably the right result with clear cut openings unsurprisingly few and far between, with neither side able to find the breakthrough. Solskjaer's Reds continue to hold a slender lead at the summit, three points ahead of the champions and two ahead of Leicester and Manchester City, whom have a game in hand. 
The United boss made three changes from the win at Turf Moor with Victor Lindelof and Solskjaer's preferred big game pairing of Fred and Scott McTominay coming in for the unlucky Eric Bailly, Nemanja Matic and Edinson Cavani with all three dropping to the bench. Jurgen Klopp chose something of a makeshift side with Fabinho and Jordan Henderson, usually the heartbeat of his midfield, pressed into service at the back. Xherdan Shaqiri made a rare start in the engine room.

Thiago was influential early on for the hosts, with the European Cup winning playmaker dictating the tempo, and particularly influential in starting attacks and he constantly kept Liverpool moving. 
Roberto Firmino had the first effort of the encounter when he was picked out by Sadio Mane at the end of a flowing move, but the goal-shy Brazilian skewed his effort wide.
Mo Salah volleyed wide after Firmino had another shot blocked, but United finally sprung into life shortly before the half hour when Fernandes flashed a free-kick inches wide after the magnificent Luke Shaw had been scythed down. 

Firmino tested David de Gea with a daisy cutter and Salah went close again, but for all their possession and territory, Liverpool failed to get in behind a United defence expertly marshalled by a superb defensive unit. 

Liverpool had the better of the opening half, but the Reds proved far more of an attacking threat after the interval. Fernandes had a shot blocked by Fabinho, before a trademark Andy Robertson cross was dealt with excellently by the impressive Harry Maguire. Firmino was waiting to pounce, but the United skipper flicked the ball to safety off the striker. 

Cavani was introduced in place of the ineffective Anthony Martial after an hour, and Fernandes went close from distance shortly after the veteran striker's introduction. The Portuguese playmaker lined up a 25-yarder, but Alisson saved with ease. Salah then shot wide on the counter attack in an increasingly end to end encounter. 
With 15 minutes left came the big moment United had been waiting for. Shaw stormed down the left and cut the ball back for Fernandes but our December Player of the Month saw his close range snap shot superbly saved by the outstretched foot of goalkeeper Alisson.

De Gea tipped wide from Thiago and Salah saw another effort off target before the Reds (in their grey away kit) saw another huge chance go begging. Marcus Rashford and Aaron Wan - Bissaka linked up down the right and the former found the onrushing Pogba but his fierce drive was repelled by the busy Brazilian between the sticks. 

That proved to be the last incident of the match as United preserved leadership of the league ahead of the trip to Fulham in midweek.

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Luke Shaw. Possibly his finest game for United and the best player on the pitch by a distance. 

Saturday, 16 January 2021

Match preview: Liverpool vs Manchester United

 The Reds of Manchester and Merseyside lock horns for the 205th time as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer takes his United side to Anfield as league leaders.
There is always plenty at stake when the country's two most successful and decorated clubs meet, but this time it carries the air of a seminal moment in a title race in which the pair are locked together at the top for the first time in over a decade.
Despite the two sides status as giants of the English game, United and Liverpool have rarely gone head-to-head for the title - Liverpool dominated in the 70s and 80s with United nowhere, and the Scousers had a fallow period themselves when our Reds were the dominant force in the Premier League.
This time, though, it's different. United have put many a nose out of joint through our unexpected surge up the league, and go to Anfield three points ahead of Jurgen Klopp's champions, whom have endured a slightly indifferent season so far. Victory at Turf Moor from our game in hand took Solskjaer's side to the summit of the table in midweek after 17 rounds of matches - a position the United boss would have snapped your hand off for if offered at the start of 2020-21.

Liverpool's 2-0 win over United in the corresponding fixture last season, almost a year ago exactly to the day, gave Klopp's men a thirty-point lead over us. Now, the champions need a win to merely draw level on points with us - how quickly times can changes, as if any of us need reminding of that!
Not only does the clash showcase the fierce and toxic rivalry that exists between them and us, it also brings together a Liverpool team unbeaten at Anfield since 2017 and a United side without defeat on the road since that clash against them last year. Something has to give. United are in fine fettle, Liverpool less so and the famous Anfield atmosphere will be conspicuous by its absence as the two meet behind closed doors for the first time ever.  

The Reds haven't won at Anfield since 2016 when new Derby manager Wayne Rooney smashed home the winner in the second half as Louis van Gaal's United pulled off a smash-and-grab raid. 

Victor Lindelof has missed the last two games with a back injury and is doubtful for the tie, with Phil Jones and Brandon Williams both sidelined. Anthony Martial and Nemanja Matic both picked up late knocks at Burnley with the pair set to be given a chance to prove their fitness. 
Liverpool's lengthy injury list has mainly affected their defence, with Joel Matip close to full fitness. The tie may come too soon for the Cameroon centre-back, but fellow defenders Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez are out. Fabinho and Jordan Henderson have filled in at the back for Klopp with striker Diogo Jota also set to miss the tie. Thiago Alcantara, Liverpool's highly-publicised summer signing, is expected to feature but Naby Keita is sidelined again. 

In United's last eleven league games, we've won nine and drawn two but, by contrast, Liverpool have failed to scale the heights of last season with only four victories from ten in the league and none of their last three. In Mo Salah, they possess the league's top scorer and the Egyptian will pose the biggest threat going forward. But United have the momentum, the side are brimming with confidence and have the ability to cause problems with our pace up top and the guile and passing of Bruno Fernandes, set to make his debut in this particular fixture. 

Ole said: "You don't get anything for being top of the league in January so it's not something we've ever valued. It makes no difference, its where you end up at the end of the season that matters. 
"You're always excited when you play teams of their quality and calibre, form goes out the window and it doesn't matter when in the season it is, its always our biggest game. I'm really looking forward to it, we're in good form at the moment.
"Being where we are in the league gives us more confidence - its a sign and an indication of where we're at. The game against the champions. We are the challengers, they are the champions, and they earned the right to the the champions. We're challengers and hunters and you want something they have. Our mentality will be to work hard, to be humble and to do our best and see where it gets us." 

Solskjaer's United take on Klopp's Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday with a 4.30pm kick off. Bring it on!!

Form guide: Liverpool W W D D L W Man Utd D W W L W W 
Match odds: Liverpool 5/2 Draw 14/5 Man Utd 13/5
Referee: Paul Tierney. Wigan whistler Tierney takes charge of English football's biggest game for the first time. 

Liverpool predicted XI: Alisson; Alexander - Arnold, Fabinho, Matip, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Henderson, Thiago; Salah, Firmino, Mane
United predicted XI: De Gea; Wan - Bissaka, Maguire, Bailly, Shaw; McTominay, Fred; Rashford, Fernandes, Pogba; Cavani 

We're Man United... we're top of the league!

As you may have heard, Manchester United sit astride the Premier League summit in the New Year for the first time in eight years.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has masterminded an incredible turnaround, from the dismal defeat to Spurs and 16th place, to leading the way and looking down from on high after 17 rounds of matches - almost the halfway point of the season. There is still a long way to go and it would take a brave man to even try and put money on the outcome of this mad, topsy, turvy and unpredictable season. 

As the Premier League panorama stretches out below United, it is new and uncharted territory for a group of players used to operating as the hunters. They have now become the hunted, there to be shot at (hypothetically of course) having climbed back upon the perch we used to claim as almost exclusive ownership.  Solskjaer and assistants Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher - a new addition to the backroom staff - have SIXTEEN league titles between them as a trio from their playing days. As coaches of a squad not used to being the creme de la creme as Premier League leaders, that must count for something.

Of course, you don't win anything in January and its where you are in May that counts. But United were not expected to even be anywhere close to a Liverpool side which finished 33-points ahead of us last season, nor a Manchester City that have become serial winners under Pep Guardiola. Indeed, should the former claim victory over us in Sunday's almighty ding dong at Anfield, Jurgen Klopp's side will share the summit and move back level on points with us. Our time in the spotlight would have been a brief - if glorious - one, at least for the time being. 

United's stint as sole leaders may only last for a matter of days, weeks, months or even - however unlikely - all the way through to May. I don't think we'll win it and nor - despite the unexpected bonus of a title charge - am I expecting United to do so. But you're not human if you haven't at least dreamed of 21 coming home in 2021 and moving back to two league titles ahead of Liverpool this year. My heart is with Ole's tricky showtimes Reds but - sentiment aside - City will take some stopping. For all my tongue in cheek baiting on social media, I still feel the title will end up either at Anfield or the Etihad. 

It has been a difficult few years for us United fans as our two fiercest and most hated rivals have become the country's two pre-eminent clubs, leaving United in the dust. As if Man City taking two successive titles, with a domestic treble to boot, wasn't hard enough to stomach, the unmentionables revival under Jurgen Klopp - with a sixth European Cup and the end of their 30-year title drought - was the unpalatable icing on the inedible cake. Having to witness City and Liverpool sweep up the silver like no tomorrow - as United ourselves used to do - it's made me want to eat my own scrotum. Particularly when set against United's own lack of success and our three-season trophy drought. 

Even the thought of a United title win has seemed far-fetched in recent seasons, so why shouldn't we cherish this moment. United may not be in this position for long but that doesn't mean I won't make the most of it. I've enjoyed every single second of us topping the table outright, and shall continue to do so. Yes, I've become unbearable on social media and have probably boiled many a piss in the process, but do I care? Not a jot - why should I? I've had to suffer in silence whilst my club's rivals have taken the trophies, so why shouldn't I revel in the fact that United are resurgent and have made the entire planet worried again.   I'm going to fully enjoy this and rub it in as much as possible while it lasts. In fact, I think the best to do for the league now is to null and void the season and award the title to the current leaders. It's the best and safest thing to do as Covid cases across the country continue to sky rocket. If you don't support a club top of the league, you're irrelevant. You could try talking to me, but I won't be able to hear you from up here. I think I've got altitude sickness. 

It's been so long, I've forgotten what it looks and feel like to be top of the table. The fact that so many are rattled by our presence as league leaders tells you everything you need to know. 

We may only have another 24 hours as the Premier League's no.1 side, so make the most of it. We're Man United, we're top of the league!

Friday, 15 January 2021

Man Utd's carpe diem: Burn down the tavern and seize the day

For the first time in over a decade, the Reds of Manchester and Merseyside lock horns as the top two sides in the Premier League.
There is always everything at stake and it ALWAYS matters when the country's two most historic, successful and illustrious clubs go toe-to-toe, but rarely since 2008-09 has a single meeting seemed so seminal. There has not been this much riding on the fixture for a long, long, long time - not since that aforementioned season in 2009 when Sir Alex's United held off Rafa Benitez's side after Liverpool's Spanish manager planted a psychological seed with his infamous "facts" rant. The season marked the first, and so far, only time, these two totemic juggernauts of the English game have directly battled for supremacy in the Premier League era. 

Liverpool, as we're all too painfully aware, cantered to the title by a landslide last term but, improbably, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's head to fortress Anfield as the surprise leaders having cut a swathe through the league with nine wins from eleven. Top of the table, the form team and unbeaten away from home in the league for almost a year. Rarely has there ever been a better time to play Jurgen Klopp's side, despite the fact they are unbeaten at Anfield in the league for almost four years. First off, there is the lack of crowd at Anfield - a factor so integral to their unbeaten run - their defensive injuries and the fact the Scousers haven't, not yet at least, represented the all-conquering juggernaut of last season. 

Even behind closed doors, their record at Anfield remains imperious, but it gives United the slimmest of advantages. 
Throw in the fact that United are playing well, winning games and sit astride the summit, we should be feeling more confident going to Anfield this time than at any other time for many a year. A 33-point chasm in 2019-20 there may have been, but its a much more even keel this time. This is a bigger game for Liverpool. The onus is all on them. Five years on from 2016's smash-and-grab under Louis van Gaal, secured by Wayne Rooney, now is the time. We can open up a six point gap between ourselves and the side proclaimed as the greatest Premier League winners of all time. It would send shockwaves through the league and throw down a frightening gauntlet. It would only further fuel the belief that 21 is coming in 2021. 

Puff out our chests, remember ALL of Anfield crowing over Munich, the Kop doing aeroplane gestures, the time we stopped them doing the treble, remember that TWAT Kenny Dalglish, remember the disrespect when George Besr died, remember Alan Smith and the ambulance,  remember that cheating, diving, racist, cannibal and vile piece of shit Luis Suarez? Remember their unprovoked assaults and attacks on our lads? Remember feeling physically ill in 2005, and 2019, and last year when the Premier League title ended up at Anfield. Be fuelled by the memories, by the anger, by the history, remember all these things and channel it. Remember the truth hurts. Let's put them in their place, show them's who boss and silence these bin dipping, sister shagging, seven-fingered, murdering, racist, victim FC, shadow dwelling cavemen. I've never wanted to beat this self entitled, loathsome, arrogant, mouthy and vile football club more than I do this time around. It's always nice to beat them, but this one would be extra special.

One glance at social media over the past few days tells you everything you need to know - the football world and his wife are worried - nay, petrified - of Manchester United again. Pundits and former players you never hear a peep out of have been queuing up to discredit us and try to proclaim our position as a false one. Yes, ladies and gentleman, lads and lasses, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's tricky showtime Reds are back to doing what they do best - boiling the piss of haters across the world. Crawling out from under their rocks to pour scorn on United and their lofty position, the ABUs are shitting themselves now the Reds are on the charge. I've been insufferable but why shouldn't I be. I'm revelling in a position we haven't been in for almost a decade and I'm making the most of every single second of it. The hunters have become the hunted. 

But can Manchester United seize the day? Can we hold our nerve and continue to do what we've done to get to this point or will the added pressure of a surprise title charge begin to show? Of our current squad, only Nemanja Matic and David de Gea have ever won the title - they are the only two men to know what this feels like, and what it means to be top of the table. It's completely new territory for everyone else. The players need to understand it, embrace it and know how important this is. What an opportunity this is - it it is one that needs to be drummed into the players but without making them lose focus. Feet need to be kept firmly on ground. Solskjaer and Michael Carrick have been there and done it all before, and so they need to instil this into the side. Having claimed top spot, the players need to believe in themselves and do everything they can to stay there. 

It all points to a seismic day at Anfield, and whilst its too early to proclaim this at a title decider, victory behind enemy lines would bring one heck of a statement.
There's a tavern in your town, in your town...

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

I don't think United will win the league... but can you blame us for getting excited?

Manchester United have gone top of the table after New Year's Day for the first time in almost a decade.

A scrappy 1-0 win at Burnley (is there ever any other kind) secured a fifth successive victory at Turf Moor and sent the Reds three points clear at the summit after 17 rounds of matches. If you're a team with aspirations of success, you have to grind out results in games like this one. Whisper it, but on such wins are title charges built. For all the 9-0s, 8-1s and 6-0s we saw so often in the halycon days of yesteryear, the gritty, ugly wins are worth their weight in gold. 

If you had offered Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that scenario going to Anfield at the halfway stage of the season, he'd have bitten your hand off. Especially considering United's indifferent form in the early stages of the campaign. United have won nine out of their last eleven games, we're the league's form team and the best side in the land at the moment. Not to mention a 22-game unbeaten streak away from home stretching back a year. Impressive numbers and not bad for a team in crisis with a PE teacher for a manager. 

Even the most anti-ABU would have to give us credit. Even Solskjaer's biggest critics should doff their proverbial cap in the direction of the affable Norwegian. Even by merely being in this position, Solskjaer has emulated his far more illustrious managerial predecessors. Indeed, it has been so long, I'd started to forget what being top of the league looks like. 

It's a peak that was once scaled with regularity, and familiar territory for a club that, once astride the summit, often took some shifting as perennial winners. But, as we're all too painfully aware, the well has run dry in recent years and the Reds have never been higher than second at this stage of a campaign since we last won it in 2012-13. That, of course, proved to be Sir Alex's final flourish before the greatest manager the beautiful game has ever seen rode off into the sunset. We've flirted with the top before - briefly under Jose Mourinho - but it was never sustainable. The last time we were top at this stage of a season, we won the thing. 

Will we do so again? Will 21 really come home in 2021? This is the most unpredictable, rollercoaster, harum scarum Premier League season in living memory, with six sides in the mix at the top, so tightly locked together you can throw a blanket over them. As we speak, 13 days into January, Manchester United have as good a chance as anyone. I don't want to douse any fires or dampen enthusiasm but it will be a big ask. 
There is, of course, still a very long way to go. Incidentally, we still have 21 games to go. It is far, far too early to even begin to start making predictions. Liverpool and Manchester City, are for my money, still the two sides most likely to last the course - backed up by the Anfield side remaining as favourites with the bookies at 4/5, with Pep Guardiola's in-form Blues second favourites at 11/4. I wouldn't disagree. 

The two powerhouses have dominated the Premier League for four seasons now and you'd be hard pressed to see beyond either again. But yet, we are a club that redefine logic and make the impossible possible. Basking in the glow of a gloriously unexpected title challenge, you simply cannot ever write Manchester United off. United weren't expected to challenge but, right now, we have defied all the odds to gaze down serenly at the Premier League panorama stretching out below us. I'm starting to get altitude sickness up here. 

For all the premature if understandable glee on social media  proclaiming 21 is coming (yes, I'm unbearable and no I'm not going to shut up and aye, I shall enjoy every second while its lasts
), beneath the bluster, most United fans are sensible enough to know that we're probably not going to win this. This is a side that haven't yet developed the nous or steely mentality required to become league champions. There are signs we're getting there, but only Nemanja Matic in our squad of outfield players knows what it takes to get over the line. But this was a statement, a throwing down of the gauntlet and a mental nail hammered into the pysche of the chasing pack. 

But don't let that stop you believing. Its been a barren time for a fanbase that were once served silverware for breakfast, so why shouldn't we get a bit excited? I'm refusing to get carried away or look further ahead than our next game, but if you want to do so, who am I to stop you? 

We're Manchester United, we're top of the league!