MANCHESTER UNITED are about to enter a defining period of the season on and off the pitch, and it starts on Tuesday against Watford. There was a strange feeling amongst United supporters as they left Old Trafford on Saturday.
They’d just seen their side win 1-0 against a stubborn Brighton and maintain their 100 per cent home Premier League record. Yet, listening to fans as they made their way across Sir Alex Ferguson Way, you got the impression that some felt frustrated with the manner of the victory.
Others could be heard questioning whether United really had what it takes to push Manchester City all the all the way in the title race. The good news, is that they won’t have long to wait and find out.
On Tuesday, United play a very good Watford side at Vicarage Road, before making the trip south again, on Saturday, to face Arsenal at the Emirates. In that same period, Pep Guardiola’s team have two straightforward home games, against Southampton and West Ham.
There’s every chance that they could be at least ten points ahead of United before they meet in the Manchester derby on December 10, if United don’t pick up maximum points. A lot of clubs focus on recovery work and tactical sessions at this stage of the season, rather than an intense training programme.
Last week the United manager voiced his concern about Marouane Fellaini and his future at the club. The midfielder is one of several first-team regulars who can leave on a free next summer. Even though the club triggered a 12-month extension in his contract earlier this year, they haven’t yet agreed a deal to extend it beyond the summer of 2018.
Like him or not, the former Everton man is a vital cog in Mourinho’s machine and has been an important figure for every manager he’s played under, for club and country, for several seasons.
His height and presence are a trademark of previous successful Mourinho teams and his heading ability in either penalty area alone, means he’s a valuable asset. Ahead of the game at Watford, United were boosted by the news that Romelu Lukaku is available, with the FA deciding not to take any action against him following his kick at Gaetan Bong.
But, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic now back and in contention, it might be a game the younger striker watches from the bench. After a sensational start to his United career, Lukaku has failed to hit the net in nine of his last ten games.
You only need to see Mourinho’s celebration after his goal against Newcastle, to realise that he might just be starting to feel some of the pressure. Watford are the surprise package of the season and their fans should feel confident because manager Marco Silva’s record against United isn’t bad either.
Despite losing the league cup semi-final last season, his Hull City side did win the second leg 2-1 and he masterminded an impressive 0-0 draw at Old Trafford in the league. United fans are waiting for that big result to really bring their season to life.
But anything less than six points between now and the derby, and United will find themselves involved in a race for the top four and not the title.