This time of year gives the illusion that the league season is approaching its cliché “commercial end” when it is far from near. Manchester United have made 16 Premier League appearances and over the last season they’ve been involved in a challenge that went into their 16th game was a debauched victory at Queens Park Rangers – seven days before Christmas.Liverpool are doing everything they can to color the illusion of this season: fierce players, extensive legends, alluring cheerleaders and unexpectedly squandered points. Even if Liverpool won their remaining 21 league appearances, they would be three points short of 99 last year.Jurgen Klopp is still smiling, still laughing. Just like Tommy seconds before he shoot Spider Goodfellas. The change in momentum is so good United went level on points with Liverpool thanks to a questionable penalty and Liverpool were denied a kick in Southampton.
“I now hear that Manchester United have had more penalties in two years than I have had in five and a half years,” Klopp complained. Solskjaer will have appreciated that.
Next week is not necessarily the acid test that was brewing for United, a pivotal week although it still is. They could usurp Liverpool and stay there if they extend their unbeaten league run at Turf Moor and Anfield, but the midterm report would not be due until the following week.
United’s celebration scenes full-time against Aston Villa on New Years Day were incongruous, out of context. They had just won their 16th league game and had 22 more to complete, but goalkeeper Eric Bailly is as popular in the dressing room as Marcus Rashford across the country.
Arsenal were once second to none in premature celebrations and the jubilance that greeted William Gallas’ extra-time equalizer against United in November 2007 suggested a crowning glory was imminent. Arsenal’s elation was a window into their mental fragility which was on display in Birmingham three months later.
The presence of Paul Ince on Monday night football has given many United fans a nostalgic look back on his United career. Enough dust has settled since Ince was swallowed by The Kop and caught his ears in front of United fans in 1999. In 2008 it was too raw when Ince was Blackburn’s manager and 7,000 fans. of United stood at Darwen Road End, repeating en masse: ‘Paul Ince is a b -– Scouse 10 years after twittering’ Charlie, Charlie, what’s the score?
Eric Cantona considered Ince to be “probably the best midfielder in the world” at one point and Ferguson said his emergence “reflected United’s improvement”. He started 56 games in United’s double-winning triumph in 1993-94 and one of the most striking stats that illustrate the passing time is in United’s league appearance column for the season: 14 players have beat double the numbers for the league debut. Among the current United squad, 10 have already achieved this feat.
Even United’s recruiting department couldn’t have predicted how strengthening the squad on the starting side would support a potential league challenge. Van de Beek, a fallback option for Jack Grealish, became so insignificant in the midst of Solskjaer’s savvy rotation over the holiday schedule that he didn’t even start in the league and was still sitting in the stands then that the clock passed in the 90th minute against Wolves.
Only Solskjaer could have considered the role of Van de Beek after the fanfare surrounding his signing, filled with an open letter from Edwin van der Sar on behalf of Ajax to United supporters in the Manchester Evening News . Alex Telles peaked on his daring debut at Paris Saint-Germain, but the acquisition of a specialist left-back shook Luke Shaw, undeterred by his repressing return to Leipzig.
United have prioritized ‘game changers’ in Solskjaer’s unsatisfactory first summer window to step straight into the first XI and none of the summer signings fully meet those criteria. Van de Beek has started in every previous round of the Carabao Cup but can expect to sit on the bench against City after a disastrous December.
United have an enviable depth in the midfield, their replacement goalkeeper would be an upgrade to 17 of the other starting top-flight goalkeepers, Rashford or Anthony Martial are capable of leaving the right-backs with twisted blood. Cavani, not content with keeping Martial on his toes, trampled them underfoot by reviving the number nine by wearing the “7”.
The defensive quartet of Bailly, Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Axel Tuanzebe are far from waterproof and if a sports center half is achievable this month, United must be prepared to invest. Bayern Munich’s jack-of-all-trades David Alaba would be a masterful coup despite his intentions appearing superficial as the final five months of his contract draw near.
Solskjaer started 20 players in the recent six-game 15-day span, but not many twenty and doesn’t have two XIs. There are compensation payments for Timothy Fosu-Mensah, the recipient of a three-and-a-half-year contract he turned down, and Juan Mata, injured for the Carabao Cup draw at Everton.
Of the four others to appear this season, Diogo Dalot is on loan, Jesse Lingard and Brandon Williams could be loaned this month and Odion Ighalo is leaving at the end of the month. He will miss the opportune moment.