After a hard fought mid-week win against Burnley, Manchester United opened a three-point gap at the top of the league, sitting in first position for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson’s last title-winning season. It took United nine years and five managers to get back on top but they are not yet title favorites. Ole Gunnar is steering the club in the right direction but they have not delivered consistently over a long enough period of time to be considered outright title favorites. For now, the two clubs with the best shot remain Manchester City and Liverpool.
United had one of the worse start of the league forms in the history of the club, partly because of their lack of preseason due to their Europa league knockout rounds being played late at the end of the last campaign. Even though United crashed out of the Champions League group after winning their first two games against tough opponents and lost yet another semifinal, the true measure of progress comes in the EPL, where you have to be good week in week out to be at the top.
Consequentially, Ole’s team is progressing. Compared to January 2020, where they were 27 points behind Liverpool in 7th place, United are now three points ahead of their rivals. An argument can be made that United’s rivals have not performed at their usual level because they have been hit by Covid-19, a tough schedule and injuries but this applies to all twenty clubs, including United. Ole has also been delivering results, amidst bouts of insanely poor form. A comparison with Jurgen Klopp’s first 100 games at Liverpool FC show that Ole, having inherited a worse-performing club, is doing just as well as the German tactician, if not better.
If we follow the data, Ole is on track to deliver major honors at Old Trafford. However, United cannot be considered favorites but rather as part of a competitive chasing pack (including the likes of Leicester City, Chelsea, Spurs) who are temporarily at the top of the league. Liverpool and Manchester City have the better squads, coaches and have already demonstrated over the past few years they are two of the best team in the world, making them outright favorites and relegating a United side that has repeatedly struggled to even make it in the top four, to an outsider role.
A lot of hype surrounds Manchester United’s title credentials, mostly instigated by fans or pundits and not by anybody from within the club. A similar hype was seen around Mourinho’s Spurs just a few weeks ago when they were first. Fans and pundits are fickle. If United lose to Liverpool tomorrow, many will call for Ole to be sacked or claim that United are no longer favorites. The truth is that Sunday’s result changes nothing on the perspective we have on this United squad.
The Red Devils are progressing and even making it in the top four for two consecutive years could be considered a win for Ole as this would be a result more experienced managers like Moyes, LVG or Mourinho were unable to achieve. Challenging for the title this season is something United are fully capable of and they are doing it but as outsiders. Due to the nature of Ole’s tenure and United’s inconsistent yo-yo between world class performances and poor football, the feeling that everything could collapse at anytime will remain for the time being.
Should United open a double-digit lead at the top of the league, they could be considered as favorites and we could claim “United is back!” (that might still be a stretch). For now, we content ourselves with saying Ole has brought plenty of positivity around the club and significant progress is being made both on and off the pitch.