Two months to the day since a demoralising, alarming, and seemingly damaging defeat at home to Arsenal, Manchester United have gone level on points with Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table. It’s a remarkable turnaround.
The gap between the rivals was up to nine points when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s penalty clinched it for the Gunners at Old Trafford at the start of November, handing United their third defeat in their first six games.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side had a game in hand on Liverpool but they were down in 15th.
Eight wins in 10 Premier League games later, and the mood among the United players and coaching staff at Old Trafford on New Year’s Day was completely different. Confidence and belief runs through the camp now.
Speaking to Sky Sports after the 2-1 win over Aston Villa, Solskjaer was keen to emphasise it’s still early in the season but United’s trip to Liverpool on January 17 will be approaching the halfway point of the campaign, and that head-to-head is shaping up to be a fascinating and important contest.
But what’s behind United’s transformation?
How United turned it around…
“A lack of energy, of enthusiasm, and a real lack of quality,” was Roy Keane’s assessment of United’s defeat to Arsenal. “I’m really, really worried about Manchester United now. There’s a long way back for this club.”
Paul Pogba had clumsily fouled Hector Bellerin to give up the decisive penalty and the Frenchman’s form and role in the team was a major talking point. So too, was Solskjaer’s command of this squad, their centre-back pairing, the best midfield formation, and the team’s worrying inconsistency.
There was no immediate bounce-back from that first home league defeat to Arsenal in 14 years either. United followed it up with an abject loss to Istanbul Basaksehir in the Champions League a few days later, when Demba Ba’s bizarre opener seemed to sum up United’s disarray.
- Man Utd 2-1 Aston Villa – match report and highlights
- Premier League table
- Get Sky Sports
When Bernard put Everton ahead at Goodison Park the following weekend, pressure was mounting on Solskjaer.
Step forward Bruno Fernandes. Two goals and an assist later from their talisman and United were edging back on course.
The importance and influence of the Portugal international on this side can not be underestimated.
While opposition supporters will point to his penalty haul swelling his figures – and how impressively he fired in from 12 yards against Villa – there is no denying his creative brilliance.
Bruno Fernandes the creator
Bruno Fernandes led the Premier League in 2020 in goal involvements (32, with Mohamed Salah) and mins per goal involvement (every 75 mins). Also ranked 2nd for goals (18) and assists (14).
His eight goals and five assists in 10 Premier League games since the defeat to Arsenal have been at the heart of the turnaround, with Marcus Rashford’s return to form with five goals in that period another important factor.
Elsewhere, fit-again Eric Bailly has looked a better partner for Harry Maguire than Victor Lindelof, and in midfield Pogba looks motivated and is showing his quality.
There is reason to believe the squad are getting fitter after their run to the Europa League semi-finals last season left them little time to rest and then prepare in pre-season, while Solskjaer has also pointed to the improving mentality in the group.
Ultimately numerous aspects have come together – individual and collective – and the improvement across the team has steadily increased since that win at Everton.
There were sluggish starts and early advantages handed to Southampton, West Ham, and Sheffield United, but Manchester United’s stars showed resilience and responded.
There have been setbacks in the Champions League, with defeats to Paris St-Germain and RB Leipzig sending United into the Europa League, but domestically they have built momentum.
For all the criticism United have taken this season, they’re now in a position they would have “bitten your hand off for” earlier this season, according to Gary Neville.
Man Utd in the Premier League since Nov 1 defeat to Arsenal
Since that defeat to Arsenal, United lead the Premier League for points won, matches won, goals scored and shots on target.
Their cause has been helped by Liverpool drawing no fewer than five of the nine Premier League games they’ve played over the same period.
Liverpool’s point at Manchester City shouldn’t be sniffed at, but how costly will those stalemates with Brighton, Fulham, West Brom, and Newcastle prove to be for Jurgen Klopp and his defending champions?
“The league and the season is going to be so tight,” said Solskjaer on Friday, and when we’re talking fine margins, we also have to mention Tyrone Mings’ bad miss for Villa, David De Gea’s late save from Matty Cash, and Bailly’s desperate block on Keinan Davis in the final seconds.
United held out, though, and battled to the three points. It summed up the fight they’ve shown to haul themselves back up the table since that dark day against Arsenal.
But if they are really to become challengers to Liverpool’s crown, the work has only just begun…
Win £250,000 for free with Super 6!
Do not miss your chance to land the £250,000 in Saturday's Super 6 round. Play for free, entries by 3:00pm.
Source: Read Full Article