Manchester United has been ripped by critics in the past week as being in a free-fall. But looking at the coming fixtures and anticipating the potential trouble ahead for the sides ahead of the Red Devils in the table, it is not unreasonable to believe David Moyes side can still mount a serious title challenge.
Realistically only three sides can win the title this season; Arsenal, the current league leaders, Chelsea, under Jose Mourinho and Manchester United, who were just two points short of having won seven successive league titles.
Wayne Rooney’s over performances and goal scoring form are the best since he first pouted about a transfer in the fall of 2013. Robin Van Persie hasn’t hit form yet, but he’s a proven match and title winner in English football. Danny Welbeck’s reintegration in the side following an injury layoff only makes United more dangerous going forward.
United’s backline has been playing with more ease of late and despite Moyes shuffling of the deck fixture after fixture, the title winning pedigree of Vidic, Evra, and Ferdinand in particular can be counted on for the Red Devils going forward.
The next four fixtures for the Red Devils are all winnable: at Aston Villa, West Ham, at Hull City, and at Norwich. Assuming United get full points from those four fixtures, they would enter the New Year and a date with Spurs at Old Trafford with 7-9 points off the top, which could be Chelsea or Arsenal by that point.
Now let’s look at the weaknesses of the other two realistic title contenders; Arsenal have been playing well but questions remain about the Gunners depth, particularly up front, about the sides leadership with Arsene Wenger relying on a younger core and on the ability to sustain a title run during the bitter cold of winter. From my vantage point, the Gunners remain the title favorites but questions are likely to be asked of this side before the New Year.
Chelsea sport the deepest squad in English football and its most colorful and attention-grabbing manager. They also have benefitted from several breaks already this season such as a non-penalty call vs Aston Villa, a Ramires dive that was rewarded with a penalty in the dying moments of game vs West Brom that Chelsea trailed, and the now infamous Joe Hart mistake against Manchester City. But for some reason, Chelsea have never looked comfortable this season, even while getting results. This could mean one of two things, either the Blues with a new manager are going through a tough transition, or the side could collapse at any moment, as the recent defensive frailties have made some fear.
With Chelsea, it is really difficult to see which way things will go. On one hand, it could be argued the Blues have gotten the difficult transition to Jose’s way out of their system and now could run rough-shot over the league or perhaps the difficulties (including those games listed above where Chelsea were fortunate to get results) we’ve seen indicate a side that is not title winning quality.
Liverpool are not yet seasoned in a title scrap like this and while the start to the season has been about as good as possible for them, they cannot be seen as true title contenders. Still, Brendan Rodgers has done wonders with this side and they should be pleased with a top 4 finish. Manchester City has dropped far too many points away from home to sides battling relegation to be taken seriously as a contender for honors. Defensive errors have plagued Manuel Pellegrini’s club all season. With the most difficult fixtures still come for the Blues, finishing in the top 3 is probably the best they can manage.
From where I sit, many in the British Press are writing Manchester United off because it sells newspapers and generates clicks. But the reality is while David Moyes’ side has left it all to do, the group of players on this particular team has proven they can confront adversity and prevail time and again. Few if any other group of players currently in English football can make the same claim. Arsenal remain the favorites and Chelsea the second favorites, but after that United have to be considered legitimate title chasers thanks to history, pedigree and the remaining match-winning quality within the squad.