The 3-2 victory over Newcastle was a much needed boost to Manchester United’s season. Their first win at Old Trafford since opening day, their first win period since September 19, and their first comeback win of the season. However, now that the excitement has died down a bit, it’s time for some bad news: Manchester United’s toughest stretch of the season is coming up after the international break.
Manchester United’s Premier League season started with home fixtures against Leicester City and Tottenham, as well as visits to Brighton, Burnley, and Watford. It’s not unreasonable to expect the team that finished second in the league last season to manage at least 12 points from a possible 15 against these opponents, but an atrocious loss to Brighton brought the tally down to 9. Then came a draw at Old Trafford against Wolves and an even more atrocious 3-1 loss at West Ham to round out a very poor start to the season.
Dropped points against teams in the bottom half of the table plagued United’s title challenge last season. Losses to Huddersfield and Newcastle, as well as draws against Stoke, Leicester, Burnley, and Southampton, were crucial slip ups as City created an insurmountable lead in the Premier League. This season United have found themselves 7 points adrift from the leaders just 8 games into the season after being given favorable matchups, coming away with only 13 points from a possible 24. With the “easy” start over, the worst may be yet to come as the Red Devils look ahead to several imminent match-ups with big clubs.
United have an immensely challenging run of fixtures over the next couple months, a schedule that features the likes of Chelsea, Juventus, Manchester City, and Arsenal. The first game back from the international break is a visit to Stamford Bridge in the league to take on Maurizio Sarri’s surging Chelsea, a team that are now level with Liverpool and City at the top of the league table. Given the form of United over the first two months of the season, it’s likely that the Reds will be lucky to leave with a point, which Mourinho will no doubt go for and then offer the usual “we’re not good enough” excuse. However, this season it certainly does seem as though United aren’t good enough, and their record must improve against teams closer the bottom of the table.
The comeback win against Newcastle was enough to put a few minds at ease for the time being, but given the talent in the side United should be handling Newcastle with ease. To win the league these sort of games against lower sides need to be automatic wins. Both sides need to walk onto the pitch knowing that 9 times out of 10 United will win, and then execute the game plan with that confidence. The Newcastle win was important for re-establishing a sense of pride in the squad, but it also reminded everyone that Manchester United teams should always fight until the final whistle regardless of the situation on or off the pitch.
José Mourinho has his work cut out for him if he wants to salvage his career at Manchester United, but if he is able to manage his team’s confidence from the Newcastle win he could do just that in the next couple months. At least 4 points from matches against Chelsea and Manchester City are needed with wins against both Everton and Bournemouth to get back in the title race. In this day and age it’s nearly impossible to lose more than 3 league games and still challenge for the title. United have yet to play 9 of their 10 “Big 6” fixtures, meaning there is a daunting schedule ahead, but also the opportunity to make up ground on those teams.