Man Utd clicking in time for Christmas, can revived Red Devils rally to crash top four?
Holly Thackeray | 17 December 2016
Man Utd top four odds appealing post Spurs
Nothing but victory would do for Manchester United against Tottenham at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon, if Jose Mourinho’s men were to stay in the hunt for the Premier League top four. But cling onto that sliver of hope they did, albeit by the skin of their teeth. The festive fixture list could now be kind to the Portuguese’s contingent, with an important marker laid down versus the north Londoners.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s first-half rampage down the pitch to rifle past Hugo Lloris, almost a mirror image of his midweek Europa League strike, stirred the home crowd, but then proceedings began to take an all too familiar turn. Were United about to let slip another slender lead?
After Paul Pogba’s ferocious free-kick ricocheted violently off the bar, pressure was building and the script set for another last gasp goal to deflate Red Devil hopes. But… it never came.
There had been much talk of bad luck by the Northwest giants, that old gripe of playing well but not getting the rub of the green.
And it’s true lady luck did appear to have turned her fickle back in games such as Everton, when late penalty pain saw two points dropped, with more drama against Arsenal and also heroics from old boy Tom Heaton in Burnley’s net.
In reality, pundits could point to unadventurous and ill-advised late substitutions by Mourinho, lack of defensive organisation in crucial moments and wayward finishing. Which combined, looks less like a lack of luck and more akin to drooping confidence and over cautious play.
The Red Devils appeared to have no chance to butt-in on the race for the top four. But, how one result can turn a campaign…
Revived Red Devils can go on Christmas run
Having bagged all three points to remain in sixth spot, Man Utd (6/4 with Coral to finish in the Champions League places) are now only three behind conquered Spurs in fifth, and have a kind Christmas fixture list – a better present than Mourinho could have dared to wish for.
After coming through a testing time when draining games against Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal and Fenerbahce came thick and fast, now is the time for United to flex their muscles, while other sides deal with their jammed rotas.
It’s testament to the Red Devils, still gelling as a unit, that across their last 17 outings in all competitions, they’ve lost just twice. Yet still that is seen as insufficient for the mammoth club.
Now they look to have clicked and just in time for a run in which they should be able to hoover up points. Across the rest of December, the Old Trafford outfit face inconsistent Crystal Palace (away), resilient but far from expansive West Bromwich Albion (away), rock bottom Sunderland (home) and middling Middlesbrough (home) on New Year’s Eve.
January also brings plenty of opportunity for players to get a start on their resolutions, with beatable West Ham United (away) yet again before Japp Stam’s Reading (home) in the FA Cup and an EFL Cup semi-final first leg clash with Hull City (home), that could see Mourinho’s men book a morale-boosting date for a final at Wembley.
The next biggest test comes midway through the first month of 2017 at home to Liverpool, whom Mourinho has already proven he can tame, while Man Utd will have had even more time to gel by the time their next trip to the Etihad rolls around in February.
Mourinho’s fringe players key to Christmas
Man Utd and Mourinho have come in for plenty of criticism in their short time together, but the controversial coach’s man management should now get the praise it deserves.
A corner looked to have been turned as the Red Devils this time defended diligently for almost the whole of the second-half to keep Spurs at bay, with ruthless and pacy breaks on the counter-attack threatening to also bear plenty of fruit.
Much has already been said about how Mourinho has breathed new life into Phil Jones and Marcus Rojo’s faltering Old Trafford careers, with the latter Argentine resolute against Tottenham again, looking like a different player, while there were no calamities for Jones either.
Ander Herrera has also been championed for his ankle-biting and enthusiasm, with his precise pass to assist Mkhitaryan against Tottenham just a fraction of what the battling Basque is capable of.
Michael Carrick too has been able to prove he is still integral to this team, with only Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Memphis Depay able to complain about not being given a fair crack of the whip.
Though, it’s Mourinho’s much-maligned treatment of summer signings Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic that have yielded the best results.
Left out in the cold for months, causing much confusion, Armenia international Mkhitaryan has been eased in and in hindsight the prudence has paid off – with two assists and as many goals in his past four appearances. Lethal.
While, taking the opposite approach with Ibra by keeping faith in the big Swede through his barren patch has also reaped rewards with four strikes from his last four run-outs.
It’s not Spurs United need worry about above them though, however impressive Sunday’s result, but bitter foes Man City who are now just six ahead. With the chance to cut that gap to three not long into the New Year, the Red Devils must make their kind Christmas count…
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