Sunday, 31 December 2017

Hopes for 2018: Red line rising, blue moon sinking..

On New Year's Eve at the end of another busy and hectic year at Old Trafford, we reflect on the last 12 months and look forward to the year ahead under Jose Mourinho, in our "Hopes for 2018" feature.

I want more improvement, more progress and more trophies. That cry of 'more more more' may sound pretentious and greedy, but when asked what I wanted from United in 2018, that was my answer. As you read this on New Year's Eve  - a time for reflection and evaluation of the year just gone - I believe this is an expectation that's realistic, achievable and fair, based on where we were at this point of 2016.

Look at the facts: Mourinho had us sixth in the league on 40 points after 21 matches and a goal difference of 12. After the same number of games 12 months on, we're third with 44 points and a goal difference of 27. Despite the three consecutive draws over Christmas, the improvement is clear and the contrast far, far greater. Furthermore, back then we'd qualified for the Europa League last 32 after a Thursday night win at little-known Ukrainians, Zorya Luhansk. Today, we've progressed to the Champions League last 16 as Group A winners with 15 points and the prospect of heavyweight battles with Europe's elite to come. 

We cannot ignore the disappointment of this month's league results, or the Carabao Cup defeat to Bristol City at the quarter-final stage but setbacks happen and we must look at the bigger picture. The red line on the graph that charts our post-SAF progress is at a five-year high, and all of the evidence under Jose suggests that it will continue to rise. 

The problem is Manchester City, and their blue line which is also rising with frustrating purpose. Our overall progress is shrouded by the buzz of the increasingly unbearable Bluenoses, prompting envious glances across town - Pep and his boys are top of the table with a big lead that they don't look like relinquishing. It's grating to see them at the top, astonishingly being talked up as the "greatest side the Premier League has ever seen" - without yet winning a single pot. It's half-time in the league season and anything could still happen. The assumption that City have already got the title in the bag could prove the main reason why they do not - in football, complacency is the devil. 

If it was any other team then there would be quiet content, but it's City - those annoying cousins - who represent our greatest challenge in 2018. But, let's look at it this way: other than Liverpool leading the charge by a similar margin, what other scenario would inspire such a  chest-pumping, blood-boiling desire to improve, progress and win? There isn't one.

Winning the title from here looks a massive ask - even for us, a club that prides itself on never giving in and doing things the hard way. It's a tall order, maybe the tallest ever, but then so was scoring twice in added time of a Champions League final we had not played well in. It's in the very fabric of this great football club to play to the final whistle and believe in the impossible. 

Just have a little faith and patience: the boss is a relentless and uncompromising  winner with a proven track record of improving teams, with a mix of brilliant man-management and shrewd transfer activity.  We're moving onwards and upwards as a team both domestically and abroad. No matter how short-sighted and judgemental the modern game is, it's certainly that bigger picture outlook we need at this time. 

If the trophies do not arrive this season, then be sure that there's an all out assault coming in 2018/19. Should the manager replicate the improvement between last New Year's Day and this, then there's a lot for us United fans to look forward to. 

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