Man United: With Liverpool & Arsenal Not Up To Title Standard, We Can't Be Discounted
There's something in the air at the moment, and it's not just the usual alcohol-fug that permeates the atmosphere at this time of year. It's something far more intoxicating. Manchester United fans are starting to believe again.
That's not to say we suddenly think, after two laboriously hard-fought matches against Hull and Norwich, that we've suddenly become Premier League winners-in-waiting but, nevertheless, with a predictably stomach-churning first half of the season behind us, a relatively smooth and successful Christmas period has ignited the flickering flame of fickle hope, and the second half of the season has suddenly become something to look forward to with something approaching relish, rather than to confront with a deep sense of impending doom.
In any other of the last twenty seasons, sixth place at the turn of the year would have left Manchester United fans disbelieving and distraught, such was the club's relentless ability to achieve under the tutelage of the greatest manager in British football's history.
Yet, while sixth place and an eight point deficit to claw back doesn't sit altogether comfortably, given how grim things looked a few weeks ago, United fans are in relatively optimistic mood going into the 'business end' of the season.
Why is this the case?
First there is the unconvincing form of those above and around us in the league. I doubt I'm the only United fan who still struggles to take Arsenal or Liverpool's title credentials completely seriously and, while I stand to be corrected, still I can't help but feel both of these clubs are a year or two, and a player or two, off the required standard.
As for the likes of Everton and Newcastle, it's hard to believe they have the required squad depth to mount a serious, season-long challenge for the top four, let alone the title.
Which brings us to Chelsea and Manchester City, both of whom most predicted would finish above Manchester United this season; Chelsea because of Mourinho; City because of their squad, which is patently the strongest in the Premier League.
Still, even City and Chelsea have been inconsistent during the first half of this season of seismic upheaval.
Chelsea have reflected their manager; the tired, rapidly ageing Jose Mourinho, who appears to have reacted to not getting the United job by sloping about in a state of Shakespearian melancholy, as if determined to show the world how cruelly slighted he has been.
As for City, they are a more frightening beast. Indeed, the majority of us have been preparing ourselves for the grim prospect of them wresting the title from United again since they dismantled us with such consummate ease at the Etihad in September, and their tsunami-like home form has shown little sign of relenting since.
Yet even City have appeared vulnerable on the road, dropping points against the most unlikely opposition, when confronted with well organised teams willing to drive themselves into the ground.
It's not just other teams' faltering form that gives us renewed hope either. Granted, the standard of United's most recent opposition has hardly been high. Nevertheless, there has been a grit and determination that has rarely been seen up to this point.
Whisper it softly, but could these be the tentative first steps to recovering the infamous, never-say-die swagger of old?
Then there is the fact that David Moyes' Everton teams were renowned for their ability to mount strong, sustained periods of form after Christmas.
Moyes himself appears to have turned a corner too. His press conferences and post match interviews are becoming more self assured, as he finally begins to find his feet and rise to the formidable challenge of managing one of the worlds great clubs.
So, though a twenty first Manchester United title remains unlikely at this stage, with one or two shrewd acquisitions in January, along with an improvement in the form of the current crop, it may just be a little dangerous for our rivals to discount us completely.
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