Manchester United’s stay at the summit of the 2015-16 Premier League was cut short after they suffered a humiliating 3-0 defeat against Arsenal on Sunday.
Well, one defeat doesn’t really put them out of title contention, rather if the Red Devils stay within the touching distance of City & Arsenal and get some good results from their daunting October fixtures, United fans have every reasons to believe that the title challenge is indeed a realistic target.
But all depends on how the next 24 days pan out which will give a more clear picture of the progress the team has made under Louis van Gaal.
While the home form has been comforting for the Red Devils, they haven’t travelled well under Van Gaal.
Before moving into details, let’s check Man Utd fixtures for the month of October:
Premier League: Everton vs Manchester United / 17th October
Champions League: CSKA Moscow vs Man Utd / 21st October
Premier League: Man Utd vs Man City / 25th October
Capital One Cup: Man Utd vs M’Boro / 28th October
Premier League: Crystal Palace vs Man Utd / 31st October
United started off their month with a disappointing 3-0 defeat to Arsenal, and as you can see, the fixture list includes derby match on October 25, sandwiched either side of trips to a high flying Everton and an in-form Crystal Palace.
Furthermore, United’s 3200-mile round trip to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League (a result that could leave a serious impact on their league form) comes just four days before City visiting Old Trafford.
Although Van Gaal has restored order at Old Trafford, after a calamitous season under David Moyes, where United lost lost eight games at home all season, United have not been up to the mark while playing away from home.
In contrast, Manchester United under Van Gaal have won 14 out of 18 matches at home last season (77.77% win rate) and 3 in four this season (75%) – an overall of 77.22%, which is pretty impressive.
At home, United had the second best record of scoring goals, scoring 41 goals last season, same with Arsenal, and more than Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham. Only City were better than them with 44 goals.
This season, they have scored 7 at home so far, better than Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, but City (12), Leicester (10), West Ham (8) and Southampton (8) have scored more.
It’s their record away from home which gives a pretty grim reading. United have just won 8 out of 22 away league matches (36.36%), conceding as many as 29 goals in 22 matches.
Since Van Gaal took charge of the club, United have scored 48 goals in 22 matches at home, at an average of 2.18 goals per game. Whereas playing away from home, United have scored 26 goals in 22 games at 1.18 goals per game ratio.
United haven’t looked like a team that endorse a cavalier and an adventurous brand of football under LvG, but on the travels they appear much more cautious with their approach.
There were several instances, where they were simply happy to pick up a point or failed to kill off teams. Therefore, these sets of tricky away fixtures in October surely presents a tough challenge for United.
On the other hand, three of four games City are playing this month are at home to Newcastle United (won 6-1), Bournemouth and Norwich City – and one can expect them to pick up maximum points from these games, especially with the form they are in.
The timing of the fixtures also pose challenge to United. After the international break, United travel to Goodison, where not only they face an in-form Everton team but against whom they haven’t won since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down from the managerial role.
In the last two seasons, Everton have won thrice against United, scoring 7 goals in the process and keeping 3 clean sheets.
It is followed by a tiring trip to Moscow, where it is not always easy to emerge out as victorious in the Champions League. A draw or a defeat would put United in an uncomfortable position, and Van Gaal has to be spot on with his team selection, knowing the derby fixture to follow soon.
While Van Gaal can rotate his squad and give sufficient rest to some of his key players for the cup games, but it all depends on the circumstances, especially if United fail to win their previous matches.
Depending on the results, there is a high possibility that City will increase the lead at the top, while Chelsea and Liverpool can close the gap with United at the end of October.