It’s been seven years since Manchester United led the pack in January.
2013 was Sir Alex Ferguson’s last season at Old Trafford and as ’20 times, 20 times, Man United‘ rang around the famous stadium after his final home game against Swansea City, few would have predicted the turmoil that would follow.
Three permanent managers have separated Ferguson and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who looks to have finally placed his former employers back on track after years of instability.
It’s an understatement to say that 2020 is a year that will go down in history. A global pandemic brought football to a stop. Liverpool ended their long-standing barren spell without a Premier League title and stock prices in Zoom have never been so high.
But 2021 could be the year that Manchester United are back on their perch, though. There have been false dawns within the last seven years but the unpredictability within football – and the world – right now has fans believing again.
It’s fair to say that there are doubts whether this Manchester United side are at the level of previous title winners under Sir Alex Ferguson. For many Manchester United supporters, few would have predicted the club would be competing so fiercely against Liverpool and Man City by this stage of the season. Certainly not Gary Neville.
“The one thing I can guarantee you is that United will win again,” Neville said in September.
“That might not be this year or next year, but it will be amazing when they win again, and the longer it builds up, the greater the actual feeling is when you do it.
“I’m not sitting here, as a United fan, thinking, ‘We must win the league this year’. Yes, we’d like to, but you know when it’s your time and it’s not yet.
“It will be, maybe, when Klopp and Guardiola leave Liverpool and City – hopefully in the next couple of years! That will be the chance, as they’re two outstanding managers who have built really good teams, but they’ll leave in the next one, two or three years.
“That will be the point when United can come back in and capitalise – I’m sure Chelsea are thinking that way as well.”
Fast forward six months and Manchester United are preparing for a genuine title-deciding fixture against Liverpool at Anfield. Yes, the winners will be crowned in May and not on Sunday but amongst all the media hysteria, this is a genuine massive fixture for both clubs. A privilege United haven’t experienced for years.
Tuesday night’s victory against Burnley helped to extend their impressive away run in the Premier League. It was a tough match, as trips to Turf Moor always are, but there was always an element of patience and control as United probed for a decisive goal, which eventually followed through Paul Pogba.
The disjointed desperation that sparked comebacks at West Ham United and Southampton earlier in the season have disappeared. At least for the time being. This is a side that is no longer relying on individual quality to get them out of a jail and flattering to deceive for large portions of a game.
It has supporters, Neville included, finally believing again. In this season, of all seasons, why not Manchester United?
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Manchester United secured a vital 1-0 victory over Burnley on Tuesday night to go top of the Premier League.
Paul Pogba scored the decisive goal in a hard-fought contest at Turf Moor, meaning United are now three points clear of Liverpool — who they face this weekend at Anfield.
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“It’s a strange season, if you’d have asked me at the start of the season, I’d have said no chance, because they were nowhere near the consistency levels. But I’m sitting here tonight, why shouldn’t Manchester United fans believe, why shouldn’t the team believe?
“You look at that front line of Cavani, Rashford, Martial, Greenwood; the midfield four – Fernandes, who wasn’t at his best tonight, but then Pogba’s absolutely fantastic.
“The other teams aren’t in great moments. City, probably at this moment in time, are the ones that are cool and calm, sat there in the middle of the pack, no-one is really talking about them but they’re starting to hit really good form themselves and they’ll be the real danger.
“I think Manchester United are still a bit below, but in these next few days, it’s time to have a little bit of fun. I don’t think it’ll be a comfortable few days for Liverpool in the sense that they didn’t expect United to be anywhere near them.
“It can be a little bit of fun for Man United fans. I also expect these players believe they can have a really great season with no fans in, it’s odd, it’s changing every week and you don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s an element of unpredictability to the season and Man United could exploit that.”
As Neville so aptly puts, the line of discussion has changed. It’s no longer about what Manchester United don’t have or can’t do. Instead, fans can dream about what they could achieve again.