THE talking point of the Premier League week was Manchester United’s 9-0 demolition of Southampton at Old Trafford on Tuesday night.
United ensured that they stayed second in the league, behind neighbours, Manchester City, going into this weekend’s games. They also improved their goal-scoring difference significantly and that could be important come the end of the season.
The victory kept the pot boiling at the top end of the table for United, but is this team good enough to really challenge for the title?
As a lifelong follower of the club, I would love to say ‘yes’, but the reality might be slightly different.
Given how far they trailed Liverpool this time last season and how they were earlier this season, they have improved considerably.
But they still lack that inner belief, that drive that past United teams, under Alex Ferguson, possessed.
And can you trust them against the bigger teams? Against the other five of the so-called big six, United have failed to register a victory and those other five are not exactly setting the world alight themselves. We mention Spurs, Chelsea, and Arsenal, with Spurs putting six past United in their first meeting.
United took a point from their collision with Liverpool at Anfield and, in normal circumstances, that would have been a decent point. Liverpool were more dominant that day, but, on chances created, United should have won the game, having had two gilt-edged opportunities.
United followed that up by winning the FA Cup tie against Liverpool, before losing to the worst team in the Premier League, Sheffield United. Now, the latter have done very well since, losing by just the one goal to Manchester City and taking three points off West Brom. But Sheffield United remain the worst team because they are the bottom team.
United failed to defeat Arsenal, too, an Arsenal that’s not remotely near the teams that played under Arsene Wenger. Both sides in that game showed how much ground they have to make up since the Ferguson and Wenger eras. Neither United nor Arsenal deserved to win the latest meeting between the two clubs.
In assessing both games, Roy Keane remarked that United did not believe enough in themselves to really go after a middling Arsenal side. Arsenal might have taken four points off United this season, and that might please some of their fans, but they are nowhere near what they should be. They have already lost nine times in this Premiership season.
When United were winning league titles for fun under Ferguson, one of the deciding factors was their ability to defeat their main challengers.
That’s not being done now and, over the coming months, if United are to remain close to Man City and Liverpool, they must beat them or beat the other contenders. They must not settle for a point.
It’s one of the strangest title races for years and it has given those chasing the big two, City and Liverpool, the opportunity of doing something so much different, just like Leicester City did five years ago.
But we will not get a repeat of that and the title will end up in the blue half of Manchester or at Anfield again. And that’s why tomorrow’s showdown between the two is so crucial. It’s a game that Liverpool just have to win, as Graeme Souness pointed out last Sunday.
Meanwhile, an early contender for manager of the year must be Roy Hodgson.
The old warrior, one of the real, genuine bosses, is doing it again with Crystal Palace, keeping them well away from the lower regions of the table.
They had a huge win over Newcastle on Tuesday night, a Newcastle side that had gone to Goodison Park and come away with the points, against Everton.
Hodgson has been doing this for a few years now, getting the best out of Palace with limited resources and with few marquee names, outside of Wilfred Zaha.
It’s never an easy journey for teams like Palace. Their focus will always be on avoiding getting sucked into a relegation battle. In that regard, Hodgson is doing a fantastic job.