Sunday 24 December 2017

United's seasonal half-term report card

The Premier League season is now at the halfway point with Jose and United safely in second spot with the frantic festive fixtures in full swing. We welcome overachieving Burnley to Old Trafford on Boxing Day for league game number 20. Here, we take a look at our season so far and deliver's United half-term
report card.

It's been a season of progress but also a case of what might have been. We started superbly with form reminiscent of the Sir Alex era. 4-0 win followed 4-0 win and we looked set for a serious assault on the title. But, although things are considerably better in our best season since 2013, we've paled into the shadow of Manchester City's blistering champions elect. The league campaign is threatening to fall into an anti-climax. There have been flashes of the old United, but also a frustrating recurrence of old shortcomings - the high-profile clashes with Liverpool and City were particularly disappointing. Jose's old caution got the better of him on both occasions, admittedly mitigated by the loss of influential midfielder Paul Pogba. Jose and the Reds would have hoped to be closer on the tails of Pep Guardiola's side after the £75m summer outlay on Romelu Lukaku. In any other season, our current points tally would be enough for us to sit atop the table. 
While both the Belgian and the team have performed creditably - there's certainly nothing to be ashamed of - City have proved too clinical, too classy and too strong so far. We've fallen away a little after a hugely promising start and it now looks like a tussle for second at best. 

Qualification for the Champions League knockout stage was impressive with five wins out of six in the group, and a last 16 tie with Spanish side Sevilla in 2018 represents a tangible chance of progress to the quarter-finals. If we get that far, two of Barca, Chelsea, PSG and struggling Real Madrid will be absent so it's up for grabs. With Jose at the helm (he's won it with Porto and Inter), we've got enough about us to go deep in the competition. It's the toughest of the four available pieces of silverware to win and we have to be realistic, but the Reds can't be ruled out of going all the way. 

The Carabao Cup may not be our main priority as the least important trophy we can go for, but Jose loves the competition and has always made it a target. He will have seen it as a chance to get one over on City, but the disappointing exit to Bristol City scuppered that. As holders, you always want to try and keep the cup, and going out to a side we were expected to beat came as a blow. But it should be seen as a blip in isolation. 

United get their FA Cup campaign underway at home to Derby in the third round on January 5, and that competition probably now represents our most realistic chance of a trophy. 

There's plenty to play for still in the second half of the season. Definitely better than the last four years, but you can always look to improve. 

Team rating: 7/10 

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