Following a rather underwhelming 1-1 draw to Aston Villa which ended a six-match winning streak, Manchester United fans have been quickly realising that brief hopes of a title challenge were premature.
The perfect 18 point haul for United had seen pundits question whether they could form a genuine problem for the two shoe-ins for the top spots held by Chelsea and Manchester City. Standards have been raised so drastically that finding themselves seven points off second placed City has seen some supporters deflated and disappointed.
Louis van Gaal‘s men have every right to be disappointed with the Villa result, an inability to finish off chances or capitalise on Gabby Agbonlahor’s sending off would aggravate most teams but they shouldn’t be downhearted in the long run.
This is a side whose aims from the start of the season won’t be any different come the end – get back into the Champions League. The recent good run has done wonders for confidence as has stockpiling points ahead of a busy festive period but we all know this United team is not complete yet. As Van Gaal put it himself, it isn’t “balanced” enough to sustain a title challenge for 38 games.
Another point to consider is that United have undeniably rode their luck for the past six games, which isn’t a bad thing as every team needs luck at some point. Eventually however, this luck was bound to catch up with United. On another day, they would have snatched a late goal at Villa Park, maybe an own goal or James Wilson‘s effort could have curled into the net in the last few minutes. But surely at the same time on another day, United don’t nick all three points off Southampton the week before, or Gibbs doesn’t turn the ball past his own keeper at the Emirates? It’s all relative and United’s luck was bound to catch up with them eventually.
Let’s also remember that top four challenging teams tend to drop points where sometimes they wouldn’t have expected. Look at the sides who have been fighting for fourth but not the title recently; Arsenal, Spurs, even Liverpool. All are guilty of dropping points against teams you wouldn’t expect them to in the last few seasons, especially Arsenal.
For this season at least, United have to get used to the fact that they will drop points here and there where they maybe shouldn’t have but surely gaining three points on each of their top four rivals Southampton, Liverpool and Arsenal should be much more important?
The Reds are still third going into Christmas which, if you’d have offered any United fan after the first three games of the season. they’d undoubtedly have bitten your hand off. With players like Angel di Maria, Luke Shaw, Marouane Fellaini and Daley Blind set come back soon, which should subsequently lead to ditching the bemoaned 3-5-2 formation that has seen United look rather sluggish lately, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic.
Inevitable defensive improvements in either January or the summer will help United get back to where they should be next season as well. For this term though, keep in mind that this isn’t a title challenging team just yet. It’s a work in progress.