It’s just the beginning of October but overzealous fans of Manchester United have already declared their beloved Red Devils to be sure shot winners of the Premier League with Jose Mourinho’s men emerging as an unstoppable force, in domestic and continental competitions, both.
There is no denying that United have begun the season impressively and are among the top contenders for the Premier League title. However, none of the teams that the Red Devils have beaten since the season began are expected to finish in the top-four or anywhere near it.
Meanwhile, derby rivals Manchester City have smashed Liverpool and dominated Chelsea in the same timeframe to keep pace with United at the top of the Premier League summit.
Pep Guardiola’s men have had a far tougher run of fixtures, and their topping the league, albeit on marginal superior goal difference, puts them in much better stead than United.
For the Red Devils will face a tough test of their title credentials in October, as they have some unforgiving fixtures lined up.
Premier League: Liverpool (away) October 14, Huddersfield (away) October 21 and Tottenham Hotspur (home) October 28.
Champions League: Benfica (away) October 18.
League Cup Fixtures: Swansea (away) October 24.
Crucially, the Red Devils play just one game at Old Trafford in the entire month.
The stadium has been turned into a fortress of old once again as Red Devils have scored 21 incredible goals in all competitions while conceding just once in the six games they have played at home.
The Theatre of Dreams, a snooze-fest in past seasons, has transformed into vibrant venue where opposing teams have been battered by a ruthless United side who have won all their games played there so far.
And to make matters worse, United have effectively lost in-form midfielders Paul Pogba (hamstring) and Marouane Fellaini (MCL-knee) to injury and veteran Michael Carrick is a major doubt for the first-half of the month as well.
Pogba, United’s record signing, pulled up while clutching his hamstring during the teams UEFA Champions League win over Basel on September 12 and has been out of action ever since. Mourinho stated that Pogba is in the ‘long-term injury list’, effectively ruling him out of action till at least November.
And Fellaini, who had been terrific since filling in for Pogba, injured his knee while on international duty for Belgium on Saturday and the national side revealed he would be missing in action for a ‘couple of weeks’.
United have Ander Herrera available to partner Nemanja Matic in the middle of the pitch and while calling the Spaniard Untied’s fourth-choice midfielder would be doing him a massive disservice, there can be no denying that he is not on the same level as say, Pobga.
A trip to Liverpool looms large on the horizon and while the Reds have not enjoyed the best of starts to their season, they remain an unpredictable side and can beat anyone on their day.
Jurgen Klopp’s men are still reeling from their damaging loss at the hands of City and will look to get their campaign back on track with a morale-boosting win over their eternal rivals.
United next travel to Portugal to play Benfica in a UEFA Champions League clash and the ever-pragmatic Mourinho will know the Eagles will do their best to make things uncomfortable for the Premier League giants at the Estadio da Luz.
Immediately after their European sojourn, United visit the John Smith’s Stadium to play Premier League new-boys Huddersfield Town. German tactician David Wagner has transformed the Terriers into an impressive unit and barring a 4-0 thumping at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur, they have been notoriously difficult to break down at home.
There’s no rest for United as the Red Devils travel to Wales to face Swansea in the EFL Cup next and while they thrashed the Swans 4-0 in their Premier League tie in August, three of their goals came after the 80th minute. Paul Clement’s side will not make it easy this time round and while they may not be firing on all cylinders in attack, their defence is by and large pretty resolute, especially at the Liberty Stadium.
United’s final tie of the month is their sole home game but comes against a side that have emerged as the best travellers in the English top-flight-Tottenham Hotspur. Riding star striker Harry Kane’s goals, Spurs are flying high and are fast emerging as a dangerous unit. Their battles with United in recent seasons have always been intriguing but if history is an indication, the Lilywhites will not be settling for a draw.
In stark contrast to United, City’s fixtures make for much easier reading:
Premier League: Stoke City (home) October 14, Burnley (home) October 21, and West Bromwich Albion (away) October 28.
Champions League: Napoli (home) October 17.
EFL Cup: Wolverhampton Wanderers (home) October 24.
City are expected to pick up maximum points from their games without much fuss and while they are dealing with a few injuries, notably to their sole left-back Benjamin Mendy and top scorer Sergio Aguero, the overall quality of their squad should be able to compensate.
So will United be able to maintain their scintillating form?
With injuries to key personnel in arguably the most important position and a spate of tough fixtures up ahead, United are expected to drop a few points in October.
The Liverpool and Spurs games are vital of course, without any disrespect meant to United’s other opposition, and a loss in both fixtures could seriously derail their season. Even a loss and a draw would not be ideal and the target right now would be to keep their unbeaten streak intact before the hectic holiday season.
They can of course, win all their matches as well, but even the most fanatical Red Devils fan would not make such wager.
How Mourinho manages to rotate his personnel without losing that key potency in attack will prove to be key.
The ‘Special One’ has a task on his hands if he is to maintain United’s title-favourites’ tag throughout October but fans would argue that they would have none other than the outspoken Portuguese at the helm.