5 Reasons Manchester United Can Still Win The Title
United's hopes of back to back Premier League titles were shaken following a 4-1 defeat in the Manchester Derby last weekend. Today Alex Hess tells us why they can still win the title.
#1 - The Hard Run Is Over
Whether or not you believe that Manchester United’s derby humiliation confirms their fans’ worst worries about the state of their club or can simply be disregarded as an off-day, the silver lining to the defeat is that it marks the end of the club’s early run of fixtures from which several points were always likely to be dropped.
The maxim that ‘the season begins now’ is likely to be repeated ad nauseum around Carrington this week as David Moyes does his best to convince his players – and himself – that United’s substandard start to the season doesn’t signify a dearth of pedigree at the club, either on the pitch or in the dugout.
In reality, though, there’s a compelling argument to be made that this is exactly the case: Take away the fearsome aura and preposterous motivational skills of Ferguson, and Manchester United suddenly look little more than a sum of their parts. And when those parts include a creaking backline, a manager desperately lacking pedigree, and Ashley Young, then their sum total looks a long way from being a title-challenging one.
That’s the doubter’s view. An optimist, though, would tell you that United have already visited their two toughest away grounds, taken points from another title hopeful and knocked in six goals in their other two games, just as they embark on a run of fixtures that represent much plainer sailing.
An optimist would also argue that a plodding United team is still one that should have little trouble doing away with most sides outside the top five, and accomplishing that successfully could all that’s required of this year’s title winners. Speaking of which…
#2 - The Rest Of The League
Perhaps, despite United’s much-discussed early string of heavyweight clashes, it’s fair to say that we’ll learn far more about David Moyes now that run is over. In stark contrast to their recent schedule, United’s next five league fixtures see them facing West Brom, Sunderland, Southampton, Stoke and Fulham. Anything significantly short of a full house from those games – with some enriched goal difference to boot – will present further question marks over Moyes to add to the existing ones regarding his overly cautious big-game mentality.
That accusation of conservatism on the big stage was not something Alex Ferguson found himself immune to in recent years – most notably, aptly enough, after the derby at Eastlands in April 2012 – but the imperious Scot always made sure to anchor United’s league campaigns in the swatting aside of the division’s lower- and mid-table sides with routine ease, and as a result rarely finished the season outside of the top two.
That West Brom, a team that could plausibly find themselves in a relegation struggle this year, ended last season in 8th place says everything there is to know about the paucity of strength within the league’s lower two-thirds – and United should be beating each and every one of them home and away. Having already made little trouble of taking six points from games against Swansea and Crystal Palace, there’s been little so far to suggest Moyes will struggle with this. Despite the fact that United, in their current guise, seem not to possess the players nor – yet – the manager to triumph over the league’s elite in toe-to-toe encounters, dispatching the division’s minnows is a different task altogether, and doing so with the requisite ruthlessness could easily see United retain their place around the division’s apex.
#3 - United’s Young Wingers May Displace Their Winger Young
Despite their plethora of competition, chief among United’s incompetents on Sunday were their wingers. While Antonio Valencia, when not penetrating in flashes, has been exposed as a one-trick pony over the past two years, it is Ashley Young who truly seems to have embarked on a week-by-week project of redefining mediocrity. With Moyes apparently untrusting of both Nani – though surely he will come in sooner rather than later – and Shinji Kagawa (a footballer who improves with every game he doesn’t play), surely it’s a matter of time before either Wilfried Zaha or Adnan Januzaj are given more game time with which to reform Old Trafford’s sacrilegiously invention-free wide zones.
Of course, the very fact that the introduction of two players with a total of 23 Premier League minutes between them can be considered a viable upgrade speaks volumes about the current crop, but it’s no exaggeration to say that neither could do any worse right now that the woeful Young. In fact, the blooding of some tricky, youthful talent could be exactly the sort of act to garner Moyes some faith from an Old Trafford crowd growing in scepticism.
#4 - The Rest Of The Title Contenders
Already five points off of top spot with as many games played, he may not feel like doing so on Monday morning, but in the grand scheme of things David Moyes can count himself a very lucky man indeed. As he struggles to meet his predecessor’s impossibly high standards, that his two most obvious rivals for the title are facing similarly turbulent transitional seasons is perhaps the biggest factor in United’s favour this term.
Much as they purred on Sunday, Manchester City’s form seems to be continually lurching between absorbing and abject, and they’ve been made to look pedestrian by both Cardiff and Stoke already this campaign, taking only a single point from the two matches. Such inconsistency is likely to remain a theme as Manuel Pellegrini goes about his project of reinventing a far from flawless squad in his image.
Chelsea, meanwhile, are falling victim to an identity crisis, possessing a manager and playing staff who are about as well-matched for each other as Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau – and with similar slapstick potential. Like City, they’ve already dropped points to an ostensibly weaker side on account of failing to possess a single halfway competent centre forward. United, however…
#5 - Robin Van Persie And Wayne Rooney
One of the few unequivocal positives for Moyes so far this term has been the dynamic form of Wayne Rooney, whose unhappiness with managers old and new and general air of discontent had been the subject of many a speculative summer muttering. Having already provided the single ray of life-giving hope during the otherwise soul-sapping draw at Stamford Bridge, Rooney was again his team’s only adequate performer in Sunday’s embarrassment and he has four goals in as many starts so far.
He might have cast away his chance of being truly adored at Old Trafford with the double-sagas of 2010 and 2013, but Rooney remains a player who, for all his criticisms and misgivings, is one of the division’s most potent forwards. Robin Van Persie, meanwhile, as we are all very much aware, is perhaps the most clinical striker the country has seen since Van Nistelrooy, and even the most belligerent of Arsenal fans would probably accept that he is the land’s finest footballer.
As the Dutchman demonstrated last season, having one in-form striker capable of engineering as well as finishing chances is enough to paper over even the deepest cracks and propel a defective side to league titles. United currently have two.
Current Premier League Title Odds - Odds as at 24th September 2013.
Follow Alex on Twitter: @A_Hess