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!

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