Manchester United’s season has spluttered into second gear with a runofthree successive victoriesbutthe sceptics are not convinced and Erik Ten Hag’s side face the ultimatetestoftheir credentials at home to ManchesterCitythis weekend.
Dutchman Ten Hag was staring into the abyss when his side trailed Brentford 1-0 with stoppage time looming earlier this monthbuttwo late goals spared his blushes.
Another not-too-convincing victory at bottom club Sheffield United last weekend was admirable in its own way following the newsofclub great Bobby Charlton’s death before kickoff.
Again in midweek, United were unimpressive as they beat FC Copenhagen 1-0 at Old Trafford to kickstart their Champions League campaign — Harry Maguire’s goal and a stoppage-time penalty save by Andre Onana getting them outoftrouble.
Wins are wins, however, and the mood will be a little more buoyant as they prepare to host Pep Guardiola’sCity, who themselves are back in the groove after a slight blip.
Citysuffered consecutive league defeats before the international breakbuthave answered any doubts with wins over Brighton & Hove Albion and then at Young Boys on Wednesday in the Champions League.
Guardiola will need no reminding thatCitylost at Old Trafford last year, having crushed United 6-3 at home.Cityalso won the FA Cup final against United on their way to matching the Reds’ trebleof1999.
While United have flattered to deceive this season, victory on Sunday would move them to within three pointsofCityand formerCitystriker Sergio Aguero warns that United can be dangerous when up against the wall.
“I don’t think United have ever been weak. They’ve always had great players and they’ve always shown that ability to recover from bad periods and get back into the fray,” he told the Manchester Evening News.
United’s shortcomings have been well chronicledbuttheir lackofgoals — they have the fewest amongst the top 10 — has shone a spotlight on newsigningRasmus Hojlund.
The 20-year-old is yet to score in the Premier League and unkind comparisons withCity’s goal machine Erling Haaland are obvious, if unfair. Sunday would be a good time for the youngster to make a statement.
“I still have a lot to improve and I am getting there slowly,” he said. “(The derby) will be a big experience, so I am looking forward to it. It is always special to play a rival and if we win the game, we can get closer to the top.”
The weekend’s fixtures kick off on Friday evening with surprise leaders Tottenham Hotspur away at Crystal Palace eyeing a five-point cushion at the top.
Ange Postecoglou has revitalised Tottenham in quick time since arriving from Celticbutthe Australian is not getting carried away andoffereda doseofreality after Monday’s home win against Fulham.
“It would be so easy for me to sit here and say ‘We’re a great team’. We have to be better. Absolutely we can,” Postecoglou said after what he described as his team’s worst 45 minutes since he arrived.
Third-placed Arsenal host bottom club Sheffield United on Saturday, while fourth-placed Liverpool will aim to maintain their momentum at home to Nottingham Forest on Sunday.
Sixth-placed Newcastle United will have to shrug off the disappointmentoftheir Champions League loss to Borussia Dortmund as they face Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday. Aston Villa, flying high in fifth, host Luton Town on Sunday.
(Published 26 October 2023, 10:44 IST)