Friday, 17 November 2017
Two must win home games as United attempt to keep pace
United return to action after the international break with two home games in a week, both against newly promoted sides.
It's only November, and to label matches as "must win" at this stage of the season may seem premature, but our back-to-back home fixtures with Newcastle tomorrow and Brighton next week are ones that we simply cannot afford to drop points in. Both the Magpies and the Seagulls have soared higher than expected so far this term, sitting in eleventh and eighth in the table respectively.
Both have found goals hard to by but have proved difficult to beat, so the onus will be on us to break them down and we'll have to be patient. With the Reds blistering start to the season having been checked in recent weeks, and with City threatening to storm into the distance, there's no margin for error. Second place in the league, in the knockout stages of one cup and the quarter finals of another: most of us fans would have settled for that at this stage of the campaign.
Yet, the overriding feeling is one of disappointment.
After our best start to a season for five years fuelled belief of a genuine title challenge, we're eight points off the top and could find ourselves in fourth place (and eleven points off the pace) come kick off on Saturday.
A Chelsea win at free-falling West Bromwich Albion - coupled with a Spurs victory in the North London derby - would see both those sides leapfrog the Reds in the table ahead of the tea-time clash with Rafa Benitez's side.
As painful as it's been to stomach, there's no disgrace in being eight points behind City, such has been the relentless juggernaut of Pep Guardiola's free-scoring team.
Despite having suffered back-to-back away defeats to Huddersfield and Chelsea (again), Old Trafford has become a fortress - United haven't lost at home in any competition for 14 months, and have conceded only one goal at OT this season.
Co-incidentally, that came against our cross-town rivals in September, and City visit OT for the first Manchester derby of the season on December 10.
At present, the league looks to be a scrap for second place, but we've overturned bigger deficits than this before, notably when we came from 15 points back to pip Saturday's visitors to the title in the 1996-97 season.
City have been lucky with injuries so far and it will be intriguing to see how they cope with the heavy demands of the festive schedule - an acid test for any title-chasing team.