Opinion: Manchester United fighting back after being written off

Opinion: Manchester United fighting back after being written off

After a plethora of draws, United have found a winning formula and are now being seen as geniune challengers for a Champions League place

Craig Millar

What a difference a week makes. Going into the game against Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United were being written off even for a place in the top four. Victories over Spurs, Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion have altered the landscape, and now there is a belief that United can mount a serious challenge.

United are miles behind Chelsea at the summit, but the West London team have stolen a march on everyone, and are the only ones showing consistency. Until now. United's three victories have come on the back of a series of excellent performances, ones where results have been eluding them. They have put that right this week and they look well set to start moving up the table.

The nature of the Premier League historically has been one where nothing is handed to you on a plate. You have to work for your victories, and this season is shaping up to be tougher than any that have gone before. The top six are all strong, but no games are easy, and a spurt of victories can alter the complexion of the table in a very short space of time.

Christmas fixtures kind for United

With United having favourable looking fixtures at home to Sunderland and Middlesboro followed by a trip to West Ham United, then there is a real opportunity to make a push for the top four. There are no guarantees, but United's overall play has been superb since their humiliating defeat to Chelsea, so there is a lot of reason for optimism.

In the games against Burnley, Arsenal, West Ham United and Everton, United deserved all three points. The performances were above average in all of the games, but some anxious moments in front of goal and failure to finish chances meant United didn't get what their all round play deserved.

In between the league games, there was some fantastic cup performances, most notably West Ham in the League Cup. Some of the football in that particular game was as exciting as anything seen since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. The victory at Zorya Luhansk in the Europa League set the platform for United turning League draws into wins.

Needing at least a draw on a tough pitch in cold conditions, United controlled the game and produced moments of quality and some clinical finishing to progress into the next round. And that was a similar story in the Spurs, Palace and WBA victories. Controlling games, taking chances and some stout defending is a recipe for success, and United are showing all of those abilities now.

Carrick provides a platform

United have been playing well for some time now, but it is the fine margins that they are now getting right and it could spell trouble for teams in the coming weeks and months. It is not possible to single out one thing or player that has been key, but Michael Carrick has provided a platform to enable players around him to play, but also offer protection to the back line. when he plays, more often than not United win.

In turn, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba are putting in some big performances. Pogba is still quite loose with his passing, but he is now producing some real quality in the final third. The loss of Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling to injury looked like it could create a huge problem in defence, but the way Marcus Rojo and Phil Jones have come in and forged a solid, aggressive partnership has been really impressive.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has hit a rich vein of form in front of goal. His performances have been quite brilliant, but in the period where United were drawing, he was guilty of missing some big chances. Now, he is on fire and his 'Cantona-esque' attitude is rubbing off on all around. It is important for United that he stays fit and clear of suspensions.

Henrik Mkihitaryan is another superstar who was as much a catalyst for United's change in fortunes as anyone. His ability to run at players, and see passes that others can't and execute them was cutting teams to ribbons. He was outstanding against West Ham in the cup, Zorya and Spurs, before he suffered an injury after a clumsy challenge.

Yet it shows how confident United are that despite suffering setbacks, players are stepping up when required. The supporting cast of Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial are all producing when asked to. There is a question mark about all of them for one reason and another, but United have a determination about them right now and everyone is playing a part.

Title maybe  a bridge too far, but top four a reality

A week is a long time on football, so with five months of football left to play anything can happen. Winning the league would not quite rival Leicester City's achievement of last year, but it is almost as unlikely given Chelsea's advantage. The top four is well within reach though.

United's quality has not been in question, but now they appear to have added belief. Their inability to see off  games was transmitting a nervousness that in the space of a week has been banished and replaced with a swagger. They have been written off, but now there is momentum, and after some dark days United are finally starting to look like a force of old.