The start of the 2017/18 Premier League season has been kind to Manchester United. An agreeable fixture list allowed José Mourinho to bed in his new signings and build momentum against lower-table opponents. To the players’ credit, they took full advantage of this easy run with ruthless efficiency. October, though, brings with it a sharp upturn in challenge, as the club returns from the international break with a tough stretch of four consecutive away matches.
First up is a trip to Anfield to take on Liverpool. The Merseysiders are not in a good run of form right now — with just one win in their last seven matches — but always seem to find a way to pull it together for important games. United must weather the early storm when Liverpool will press with reckless abandon and push for an early goal. Once the pace settles down, United should have little trouble poking holes in a very fragile Liverpool defense.
José Mourinho surely relishes this opportunity to put one over on his old rivals; a result here would cement his side’s title aspirations as well as heap more pressure on Jürgen Klopp. Manchester United v. Liverpool always ranks as one of the best matchups of the season, so here’s hoping Saturday delivers another classic.
There won’t be much time to rest before the Champions League group stage resumes on October 18. Two matches versus Benfica in a fortnight (with the return in Manchester on Halloween) gives United a chance to all but wrap up Group A. The Portuguese heavyweight initially looked to be United’s main competition for the group’s top spot, but nothing has gone according to plan at the Estadio da Luz. Benfica has lost to both CSKA Moscow and FC Basel, leaving them in serious danger of crashing out altogether. Who knew the loss of Victor Lindelöf would hurt them so much?!
New boys Huddersfield Town then welcome United to John Smith’s Stadium the following weekend. Under the impressive eye of David Wagner, Huddersfield Town made a fast start to its maiden Premier League season, surprising teams with a relentless high-press. Recent results have seen Town slip down to 11th, but they remain a well-coached outfit and will ask a few questions of United’s ability to hold onto the ball. Nonetheless, these are the three must-have points for any team with eyes on winning the league.
Then it’s back to the Carabao Cup with a trip across the border to Swansea City. Back in August, Manchester United took apart the Swans in one of this season’s many 4-0 victories. This midweek visit to the Liberty Stadium should give Mourinho an opening to rotate some of the squad, especially considering this month’s fixture congestion.
And, when United finally returns to Old Trafford on October 28, they will need to be well rested to handle high-flying Tottenham Hotspur. This lunchtime face-off marks the toughest opposition that Mourinho’s men will have faced all season. Spurs have started the year in fine form and currently sit a comfortable third in the EPL table. Defending Harry Kane, Dele Alli, and Christian Eriksen can be difficult even at the best of times, let alone in the midst of such a busy period.
More than the October fixture list or high-class opponents, the biggest problem facing Manchester United right now is the team’s health. Phil Jones, Marouane Fellaini, and Romelu Lukaku all missed parts of the international break with injuries. Jones and Lukaku’s absences appear to be more precautionary in nature, but Fellaini will reportedly miss a few weeks with a knee complaint. And let’s not even mention Paul Pogba and the mystery of just when he’ll be back.
Mourinho will need a deft touch to keep his squad rested and fit during a very busy time. Once the team returns to action on Saturday, the rest of the month might very well be the making — or breaking — of Manchester United’s season.