Manchester United have not made the brightest of starts to their Premier League campaign by any standards of analysis. Jose Mourinho’s side are already playing catch up to teams such as Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea. Statistics of their first few performances are not great to read but it is time to look forward.
Last season’s Premier League runners-up will be desperate to get their season going after the international break. However, they have a tricky run of fixtures to deal with along with the start of their Champions League and EFL Cup run. Mourinho and his team must be aware that any more slip-ups would mean more pressure going into the winter.
In total, Manchester United are going to be involved in seven games in three competitions before the international break next month. A good run would ensure that they could approach the winter months with some fire in their belly. However, if things go wrong there could be mean for frustration at Old Trafford as the chill sets in.
A Tricky But Winnable Run of Games in the Premier League
Manchester United have away visits to Watford and West Ham before the next break. They will be hosting Wolves and Newcastle United before the exciting international games halter the season, AGAIN.
Trips to Vicarage Road and the London Stadium during normal seasons should be a guaranteed six points. But the uncertainty surrounding our form means nothing is nailed-on. Both the away games are against teams who are on the opposite side of the form spectrum. While Watford are riding high following four wins in four, the Hammers are yet to register a point this season.
Wolves and Newcastle United at Old Trafford also look like the kind of games Manchester United are expected to garner maximum points from. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side has looked at home in the top flight in the first month. A point at home against Manchester City has been the highlight of their campaign thus far. But their performance against Everton on the opening day of the season was a sign of things to come from a good-looking squad. In Joao Moutinho and Diogo Jota, they have real quality in their squad.
And in Adama Traore, they have a player who could turn games with his ability.
Newcastle went into the new season on the back of another fractured summer where Mike Ashley again penny pinched and Rafael Benitez inevitably moaned. A poor start to the season that has only resulted in a point from their opening four games, which has further dampened the mood around the club.
Results from corresponding fixtures from the 2017/18 campaign:
Watford (A) – Manchester United won 4-2
Wolves (H) – N/A
West Ham (A) – A 0-0 draw
Newcastle United (H) – Manchester United 4-1
Manchester United earned seven points, albeit without a fixture against Wolves, from a possible nine. There is a real possibility that Manchester United could take the maximum points from the four games. However, Watford remains a banana skin game at the moment and they must surely hope to beat West Ham.
Die Meister, Die Besten, Les grandes équipes, The Champions
The Champions League draw hasn’t been too kind on the English teams this season, except for Manchester City. Manchester United have been placed in Group H, along with Italian champions Juventus, Valencia and Swiss champions Young Boys.
Even at face value, this group looks trickier than last season as it not only contains Juventus but also a team of Valencia’s quality. While they have not made the best of starts this season, the Spanish outfit finished fourth in La Liga last year.
And we all remember the humbling exit at the hands of Sevilla last season for Manchester United.
On to the run in ahead of the next break, Manchester United should consider themselves lucky on how the fixtures have rolled out. They will be opening their European campaign with an away trip to Bern to face Young Boys. Valencia will be visiting Old Trafford at the start of next month.
With regards to the Champions League campaign, this is the best start they could have hoped for. Mourinho’s side should be going into the break with six points in their bag ahead of the big doubleheader against Juventus.
Young Boys are being considered as the whipping boys of this group but remember BASEL? Most Manchester United fans don’t have any fond memories from recent Swiss trips. They have also won their opening six games in the league, scoring 19 goals and conceding four.
Valencia have drawn two of their opening three league games, losing one and thus far, they are struggling to replicate last season’s form. They would have already faced group favourites Juventus before they visit Old Trafford.
Current League Positions of the Other Three Teams
Juventus – 1st in Serie A, won their opening three games.
Valencia – 17th in La Liga, Drawn two and lost one of their opening three games.
Young Boys – 1st in the Swiss Super League, won their opening six games.
It’s Derby County In A Cup Game AGAIN
Manchester United also open their campaign in the EFL Cup later this month. Mourinho’s former Chelsea player Frank Lampard will bring his Derby County team to Old Trafford on Tuesday, 25th September.
While a number of managers have played weakened teams in the competition, Mourinho has considered the League/EFL/Carabao Cup an important trophy. We are fully expecting Manchester United to field a strong lineup, despite facing a Championship outfit in Derby.
Mourinho likes to do two things – start a war with club hierarchies and win trophies. He will see the EFL Cup as a probable piece of silverware, which means no Angel Gomes or Tahith Chong for 90 minutes.
We could see the first start for our manager’s Player of the Year in Scott McTominay against Derby if the stars align perfectly.
The Rams are fourth in the Championship at the moment and beat Oldham and Hull City on their way to the third round. A hiding at the hands of Leeds United at home early in the campaign was a rude awakening for Lampard. However, they have recovered and are two points behind the Whites in the league table.
Following a defeat in the EFL Cup in 2009 against Derby, Manchester United have beaten the Rams in their last four cup meetings.
They met in the FA Cup last season, where we sent them packing with a 2-0 win at Old Trafford.
Champions League Means More Victor Lindelof?
Lindelof has started three of Manchester United’s opening four league games but is yet to look secure at the back. Mourinho blooded him into the team last season through the European games. He started in the Super Cup clash against Real Madrid and five of Manchester United’s eight games in the Champions League.
The Swede won 58.6% of his aerial duels in the Champions League last season. He also averaged 7.47 interceptions per game and completed 91% of his passes.
With Phil Jones again injured and Eric Bailly looking uncomfortable, the Swede could again see more European than domestic action in the coming months.
Six Points or Bust in the Champions League?
As mentioned earlier the dice rolled out favourably for Manchester United in terms of fixtures in Europe. The games against Juventus will be the highlights of Group H for Mourinho’s. But they will only face the Turin club after the international break next month.
Manchester United are aware that the opening two games against Young Boys in Switzerland and Valencia at Old Trafford are crucial. It could go a long way into deciding their fate in Group H. Maximum points from their opening two games could mean, they would be more relaxed ahead of the Juventus doubleheader.
Anything less than that, they could be going to Turin with the added pressure of getting a result.
A struggle to get out of the Champions League group stage could ratchet the talk of an early divorce between Manchester United and Mourinho. He is aware that some of his lustre at Old Trafford was lost in that embarrassing defeat to Sevilla.
Mourinho will have to ring in the changes to his starting eleven in the coming weeks. Marouane Fellaini in a deep midfield role worked like a treat against Burnley ahead of the break. But in the Champions League, the Manchester United boss might have to bring in Fred because of his skill. His performance against Manchester City for Shakhtar Donetsk last season brought the spotlight on him.
The Manchester United manager will also be hoping to get more out of Romelu Lukaku in Europe. He scored three in the first two group games last season but netted just twice until his side got knocked out in the last 16. After the first two games, he only had five shots on target for the rest of the tournament. Mourinho could consider tweaking his attack in Europe in light of their inept showing against Sevilla. With players such as Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Alexis Sanchez available, he has options to change things up.
Players such as Marcos Rojo, McTominay and Andreas Pereira could get their opportunities in the EFL Cup. Pereira has not been part of the squad since the defeat at Brighton. McTominay has not seen any action since playing a cameo against Leicester on the first day of the season.
While the next month might not go onto define the season for Manchester United, we could find some pointers for sure. Mourinho’s men must take maximum points from their league games if they have to maintain the façade of a title challenge.
The picture could look a lot rosier if we have 18 points from the opening eight league games of the season. Looking at the fixtures Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham could all drop points before the next break. There’s a serious chance we could see ‘Jose Mourinho Is Not Past It’ headlines in the next month.
But that is until the next crisis.