By Rob Dawson
OLD TRAFFORD, MANCHESTER — Manchester United are challenging for the Premier League title. They might only have an outside chance of being crowned champions this season, but they have given themselves hope after defeating Liverpool 3-0 on Sunday.
And with five months of the season still to go, that’s all you can ask. United might not be playing particularly well, but they’ve now won six games in a row. Arsenal, Southampton and now Liverpool have all been beaten during that win streak. Expectations at Old Trafford are gradually shifting from a place in the top four to something more—and rightly so.
The most encouraging thing for the fans, and manager Louis van Gaal, is there is still a sense that there’s much more to come. Angel Di Maria is sidelined with injury. Radamel Falcao is yet to get a run in the team. The defence isn’t settled. There is more to come.
It was at Old Trafford in March last season that Liverpool’s title challenge began to look credible. As Liverpool’s third goal went in, the visiting fans began singing “David Moyes football genius” and “you’re getting sacked in the morning”.
Nine months on, it was United winning 3-0 and the home fans enjoying Brendan Rodgers‘ discomfort. It’s been quite a turnaround.
United’s season has also undergone a 180 degree turn. The Red Devils didn’t win any of their first three league games. They were beaten by Swansea and drew with Sunderland and Burnley. They also dropped points against Leicester City and West Bromwich Albion.
But since the 1-0 defeat at Manchester City in November, United have taken 18 points from 18. It’s their best run in the league since the end of the 2012/13 season, when they won the title. It’s not just top-four form. It’s title-winning form.
There is still a lot of ground to make up. After 16 games, the Red Devils are five points behind Manchester City and eight behind leaders Chelsea. But Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini will be aware of United creeping up behind them.
Van Gaal’s side has the advantage of being able to look up at the teams above it rather than over its shoulder. Like Liverpool last season, United should be able to challenge without any pressure. They were written off after a couple of weeks in August, and there is much to be gained from playing with greater freedom than your rivals. It was only when the spotlight swung onto Liverpool last April that they began to crumble.
Asked after the game whether United were legitimate title challengers, Van Gaal dodged the question and chose instead to trot out a line about the next match being the most important.
“I think the most important match is always the next match,” he said, per Jamie Jackson of the Guardian. “We have won six matches in a row which is fantastic but we have to improve our playing style and I am saying that nearly every week.”
But if United extend their winning run much longer, he won’t be able to bat away the questions. With six wins out of six in the last month, United have given themselves a chance. Van Gaal has won enough titles during his career to realize that, even if he doesn’t want to admit it just yet.
Below are some pictures of the match courtesy of http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/