“Stranger things have happened in football,” said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last week when asked whether Manchester United could yet haul in Manchester City and somehow win their 21st top-flight title.
Within a little over 48 hours he was to be proofed right, as United’s first attempt to put as much pressure on their neighbours with their football as Solskjaer had done with his words were overshadowed by the developments around a European Super League.
Who knows how many more chances United will get to add to their 20 English titles given the volcanic eruptions the plans have caused at Premier League HQ and around Europe.
Winning the European Super League doesn’t quite have the same ring to it yet but perhaps it is becoming a race against time to add to those 20 crowns. If this is United’s last chance then they at least did their bit on the pitch against Burnley.
When he was asked about the possibility of reeling in City Solskjaer pointed out bigger leads have been chucked away, but it felt like victory against the Clarets was essential. Eight points in six games is doable, as City proved in 2011/12. Ten or more would have felt like at least a step too far.
After seeing the way City’s quadruple hopes tamely disappeared at Wembley on Saturday perhaps United were even more encouraged that this title race might not be over yet.
But for much of the clash with the Clarets they looked like they were going to give the Blues a free pass. Burnley came to Old Trafford unbeaten in their last four visits here and they were at it again for much of the game, threatening with their direct style and defending with aggression and application.
Having seen Mason Greenwood’s opener cancelled out by James Tarkowski in just 114 seconds, United managed to dig out a late show that could yet prove vital this season.
There were six minutes to go when Greenwood’s deflected shot crept past Bailey Peacock-Farrell and the roars from the United bench that greeted that goal, as well as the celebrations on the pitch, showed they’ve not given up on winning this title just yet. Edinson Cavani added the gloss in added time, finishing off a well-worked move.
City’s two defeats in three games might well have a few jitters going at the Etihad and they will be well aware they’ve benefitted from a collapse from this position previously. The pressure is on and United will be keeping a very close eye on events at Villa Park on Wednesday when Pep Guardiola’s side return to action.
It’s worth remembering United had a much stronger grip on this title challenge in January, when they went top of the table, but a slump in form surrendered the initiative to City, who went through a spell of being faultless.
But while United will look back at costly draws with Crystal Palace and West Brom and that January defeat to Sheffield United at Old Trafford, they have now lost only one of their last 26 Premier League games and have won five in a row to edge themselves back into what could yet develop into a title race.
United have hit form again at an ideal time and they will be hope City’s Wembley defeat to Chelsea is a sign that the pressure is building. All Solskjaer’s side can do is keep winning and their late show against Burnley showed they might well have the stomach for the fight.