It was not supposed to come this season, and certainly not under the current, much-maligned manager.
But in this madcap year of years that 2020 has been, it appears this chaotic, thrilling Manchester United side - under the tutelage, or wayward, stewardship of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - could yet make a meaningful challenge to Liverpool’s title.
Should United win their game in hand, which will be against Burnley when the Premier League schedulers get their act together, United would be second in the table, two points behind Liverpool – lofty heights for a side whose manager still has more detractors than admirers.
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The caveat to United’s position, however, is that the environment in which football is being played in at the moment is anything but normal, and it is having a major effect on some rather peculiar results.
Aside from the relentless champions Liverpool, none of the other regular top-four challengers have enjoyed anything like the first third of a season they would normally expect.
Arsenal are down in 15th having won one league game in their last 10 attempts, Tottenham have fallen away after showing early promise, Chelsea’s form has deserted them in recent weeks, while the normally prolific Manchester City are languishing down in seventh, as a result of their profligacy in front of goal.
What’s more, the manner in which United have climbed the table is also out of the ordinary. United have come from behind to win every single away game this season, a new top-flight record, and are only the third team in Premier League history to win their opening six away games of a season, following Chelsea in 2008-09 and Manchester City in 2017-18.
Marcus Rashford (mitte) trifft doppelt für Manchester United
Image credit: Getty Images
That comes in contrast with their home form. Before Sunday’s annihilation of Leeds, they had scored just one goal from open play in six Premier League home games, and picked up just one league win at Old Trafford.
But Solskjaer can only beat what is him front of him, and ticks two major boxes.
The manner of the comeback victories have been thrilling in the extreme, with United playing some exhilarating football, with goals in plentiful supply.
Against Leeds, United flew out of the traps, scoring their fastest Premier League goal in over eight years, but did not take their foot off the accelerator. Yes, at the back they looked vulnerable, and needed David de Gea to bail them out on several occasions, but the attack-minded display, going toe-to-toe with Leeds’ high press, was another fun spectacle, and isn’t that what football is about?
In a further dent in the naysayers’ quest to see Solskjaer replaced by Mauricio Pochettino, on paper, Solskjaer is producing the results.
United made significant progress towards the end of last season to storm back up the table and snatch a third-placed finish on the final day, guiding United back into the Champions League.
And now, after making a stuttering start to the current campaign, United have won six of their last seven in the league to emerge as a surprise challenger in the title race.
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Calling a club of United’s size and stature a surprise title challenger may seem somewhat strange, but this United team, under Solskjaer, supposedly very much in a transitional phase, were supposed to be a top-four contender, rather than a summit chaser.
But, emerging from the flames of the inferno that 2020 became, 2021 promises more uncertainty, on and off the pitch.
It is just a matter of sticking around in the title race until March, when the world may be a calmer place. Then, the real title race can begin. And United, at the moment, appear better set than anyone else to rival their old foes Liverpool once again.
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