Sir Alex Ferguson said that if Manchester United was still on top of the Barclays Premier League standings by on January 4th, the Reds would have a very good chance of winning the title.
To appease the manager, United has weathered a grueling four-game stretch with three wins over Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City, and a very unfortunate draw against Birmingham City, but the results have seen the Reds collect a massive 10 points in as many days.
After being given an unexpected two weeks off before Christmas, United with cruised to a convincing win over an shorthanded Sunderland team, but their other three matches proved that the Reds are going to have to fight very hard every week to win that elusive 19th top-flight league title.
In the last week and a half, United has played some very good possession football, but they are going to need to maintain a high level of consistency if they are going to outpace the other four clubs who are contending for this year’s Premier League title.
There is no doubt that Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham will provide some serious pressure in the five-headed title race over the next 18 matches, so Sir Alex will need to make sure his entire squad positively contributes if United can fend off the challenge them.
City and Arsenal, who are three and five points, respectively, back of United, square off the Emirates in a must-win match for both.
One thing that has been well-documented in the press was the bust-up between former Arsenal teammates, Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure, at City’s training ground, and that is not the first time it has happened this, either.
Another altercation that has occurred in last couple of days with one of the title contenders was the jarring between Didier Drogba and John Terry after Chelsea’s blown chance to end their awful run of form against Aston Villa.
This brings up the point of club spirit amongst the players, which is something that Sir Alex has always encouraged is United players have.
It was pointed out against Stoke City, the United starting XI was constructed with players from 11 different countries, but, with the cautious care of the Gaffer, they have all meshed together as one.
With that team selection, Ferguson showed how much he trusts each and every single one of his players, and knows that if his team is going to have an honest chance of winning their 12th title in the last 19 years, they will need to show camaraderie.
With the margin of error this season very slim, this type of player togetherness is what is required to earn the advantage of the others, and there needs to be the right balance of players stepping up in both attack and in defense.
It is certain that all of the title rivals at one point or another will hit a stumbling block, but their fate is going to be determined on how quickly they can turn around their misfortunes.
In spite of their good run of form, United has not been firing on all cylinders and could very well have dropped more poor points if it was not for a complete team effort.
Since United hung seven magnificent goals on Blackburn on November 27, the Reds has only managed to score eight goals in five games.
In most cases that statistic would be a bit alarming, but the United defense has really shown that they can offset the lack offensive production.
At times this season, United’s team defending has been rightfully criticized, but in the last couple of months the Reds has really stepped up their performances.
The dynamic partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, coupled with the very good performances by both Rafael and Patrice Evra at full-back has certainly tightened up the United belt loop.
While their offensive output has relatively remained the same, in United’s last 10 games – half of their season – the defense has only conceded seven goals – compared to their 12 in the first 10 games.
If you are two split the season in half, the defense has earned them four more points, which is how United has been able to top the standings.
GP 10 W 5 D 5 L 0 GF 22 GA 12 GD +10
GP 10 W 7 D 3 L 0 GF 21 GA 7 GD +14
Even though the Reds has only allowed three goals during their wearing winter period, two of those three goals that their opponents – Birmingham City and Stoke City – scored were very soft goals.
Ultimately, these types of goals need to be eliminated, or United risks dropping even more valuable point in this hotly-contested race, which Ferguson will stress, if already has not, to them during their preparation for second half of the season.
The last four matches have been quite vigorous with the contrasting styles that each of their opponents plays, but Sir Alex Ferguson, who deserves some of the credit for selecting the right formations and line-ups, will be quite pleased to see Manchester United on top of Barclays Premier League tree.