Why Manchester United will still prove a cause for concern

In recent weeks the tough times at Old Trafford have been a favourite for the media. With Manchester United catastrophically collapsing out of the Champions League from a seemingly easy group, eyebrows have been raised over whether they can compete at the top.

People have been looking back at the 6-1 drubbing they took at home to rivals City and say that their reign as the dominant force in England is over. Others have become worried about the players at their disposal and whether they can live up to the demands of playing for such an important club, with certain newspapers showing Fergie who he should buy to sort the problem. Former stars Roy Keane and Paul Ince have erred on the side of change while the extremists have said it’s time for a change in manager.

And while it is obvious that the club isn’t yet in full flow and has some issues to sort out, that should be a concern for the teams around them rather than fans of the Red Devils. On Sunday afternoon, United returned to the top of the league courtesy of their 2-0 win over QPR and although they were knocked off their perch just 4 hours later, it was a great achievement considering they were five points behind at the beginning of the month. It forced Manchester City to get a result in their game, (which they did by the skin of their teeth), but it means that they go into the busy festive period knowing the slightest mistake could see them fall back in the title race, which is an incredible situation considering the praise that Mancini’s men have received for their dazzling displays while the Champions have been slated for sub-par performances. To still be City’s closest challenges despite this should be a worry for all the teams that want to be challenging. It was a similar case last season with United not playing brilliantly but they were able to grind out these results. They know what it takes to win the league whether they are chasing or being chased, whereas the current leaders have never been in this position so the constant pressure could be too much.

People also seem to ignore that the Reds have only lost one league game so far this season. Although they were eliminated from the Champions League by Basel that was their only defeat in the competition and the League Cup defeat was a setback but it was an under-strength side. So far this season they have beaten Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea, scoring 14 goals in the process and ended a three game losing streak at Anfield with a hard-fought 1-1 draw. In 16 games they have scored 37 goals, only bettered by City and have conceded 14, one fewer than the leaders and only Liverpool have let in less. Fergie’s side have looked monumental at times, destroying opponents with their play and at the start of the season they were matching their noisy neighbours step for step. The ease at which they were winning games was something that nobody expected but it wasn’t going to go on forever. It was ended in the most brutal fashion during the Manchester derby but since then results haven’t been terrible. Swansea’s unbeaten home record was ended by a Javier Hernandez goal, and QPR were brushed aside on Sunday despite proving more than a problem for Chelsea and City. Since the 6-1 nightmare United have been on a better run than their rivals, dropping just two points in that time.

Meanwhile, the main problem that faced the champions last season has been well and truly eradicated. Although they finished nine points clear at the top of the table last season, they only managed to win five games on the road and struggled outside of their Old Trafford fortress. The poor performances they have had this season are very similar to last year’s away game with mistakes, lapses of concentration and that lack of spark costing them points. But this season they already have six wins on their travels and have drawn the other two games, at Anfield and the Britannia Stadium, two places where weaknesses will be exposed.

At the beginning of the season their performances were breathtaking, Ashley Young made a great start to life at United and created a formidable attack with Nani, Welbeck and Rooney. Goals were coming in abundance and some very good teams were made to look ordinary. Despite recent troubles with injuries and a playing style that has left a lot to the imagination it hasn’t stopped the chances being created. Against Newcastle they dropped points but had a mountain of chances to win and on Sunday they could have scored five before half time with a bit more luck and accuracy. They have been wasteful rather than poor but this has led to the defensive lapses having greater significance. At times these performances haven’t been easy on the eye or as convincing as the victory over QPR but being successful isn’t always about playing attractive football, it’s about getting a result when your back’s against the wall.

The fact that Manchester United no longer have a first-team littered with world-class players has got people wanting signings and they are comparing the side to City and their endless supply of money and talent. I accept that they are not in the Champions League and that the Europa League is not acceptable for a club of this stature but there is the chance to win that. Similarly, a two point gap after 16 games is hardly anything to worry about. A slip-up at the Etihad Stadium or a reversal of October’s derby day disaster and United would be back in pole position.

Finally, for those still worrying about the 6-1 loss, in the 2008-09 season, Liverpool were top of the league and dished out a 4-1 beating at the Theatre of Dreams but their lead slipped away and United were able to win their 18th league title. Three seasons later City delivered their demolition. Could history repeat itself? Don’t ever rule it out.

How nervous do you think United’s rivals should be? Comment below or let me know on Twitter @jrobbins1991.

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