Gary Neville has spoken of the importance of finishing in second place for Manchester United this season.
Jose Mourinho has for some time conceded that Manchester City, now 13 points clear with a game in hand, were already champions of England.
But his side’s 2-1 win over Chelsea importantly took them back to second spot and four points ahead of fourth placed Tottenham Hotspur, ensuring they remain the best of the rest in the Premier League.
And Neville, writing in a column for Sky Sports, noted that it was important for Man United to remain in second spot this season.
“I think United have to finish second to show progress from where they were,” he said. “It still can’t be classed as good enough, they had to win the league this year, but ultimately it is progression – but not good enough.”
“From a point of view of second, I would say just United. I think United are stronger than the others and that they will finish second.
“In the interesting game is the one we’ve got in a couple of weeks, the Manchester United-Liverpool game at Old Trafford. That will go a long way to deciding it but I think United will come out on top overall this season.
“There are a lot of big games to come. The race for top four is so important. What I would say about Arsenal is that I don’t see them challenging for the top four this season, I think they’re done.
“It’s Tottenham, Liverpool, United and Chelsea for those other three spots. We always said that for Arsenal the top four was the saving grace, but they’ve not got that anymore. In the last few years it’s been a cup, but the cup has gone again here.”
United have played almost 75 per cent of the 2017/18 season but they can’t be sure of anything just yet. They continue to lead a pack of four sides separated by just five points, making second their staple position just like sixth was last year, but the possibility of finishing outside the Champions League spots – whilst unlikely – is still very much alive.
The way Mourinho’s men, despite a continued dearth in attacking zeal or even any clear playing style, have kept their noses ahead of free-flowing teams like Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool serves as a testament to the winning nous engendered by the 55-year-old.
But they have merely set the platform so far. United’s mettle, their capacity to scalp continually pick up points under pressure, will only be truly judged as the season approaches its crescendo.