As we stretch past the mid-way point in this Premier League season a couple of things are starting to look fairly nailed on. The first one is that Hull City will need a minor miracle to survive the drop and secondly, we can almost certainly presume who the top 6 are going to be. In which order they’ll end up is where it gets interesting though. Whilst Chelsea still retain a commanding position, their recent defeat at Tottenham capped off a festive period in which the title chasing top four all managed to drop points. It was Spurs’ fifth league win in a row and when you couple that with our six game winning streak then all of a sudden it looks incredibly tasty at the top. Only four Premier League campaigns have produced a tighter gap between the top 6 at this stage of the season. Our position remains the weakest but we’ve done our Champions League ambitions a world of good and in the process seem to have assembled our strongest side going forward. As for the title, we currently lie 10 points off Chelsea and any hopes of us lifting the trophy come May seem like wishful thinking.
Optimistic – Title challenge
A tilt at the title seems unlikely but it’s not out of reach. The most optimistic of our fans will point to deficits overturned in the past, most notably our 1996 triumph over Keegan’s Newcastle who were 9 points clear with a game in hand in early January. After this many games last season Spurs lay 7 points off top in 4th and went on to mount a title challenge, albeit unsuccessfully. At the same point in 14/15 we were 12 points adrift of Mourinho’s Chelsea yet went into April’s game at Stamford Bridge knowing a win would put us within 5 points of them with 6 games to go. Now, we were always highly unlikely to win the league that year and whilst Tottenham’s was a possibility, the required points tally to challenge is likely to be much higher this year. However it does show that if a team is adrift in the New Year then mightily impressive form can catapult you back into the title picture. If we to beat Liverpool at Old Trafford next week then we’d be within two or three (dependant on how Spurs do) points of second place with the momentum of 7 straight wins behind us. Like everybody else, we’d be relying on Chelsea to start stuttering but with plenty of games to go I’d consider us legitimately back in the race.
Eden Hazard scores the only and decisive goal in a game dominated by United at Stamford Bridge 18th April 2015
Realistic – Top four
In the early days of this season many of us would have been quietly considering ourselves as potential contenders for the league. We had Mourinho, we’d made four impressive summer signings and had collected three wins from three. However it soon became apparent that much more was needed to turn the situation of the last three years around and that a place in the top four may be a much more realistic aim. Defeats to City, Watford and Chelsea hit hard and despite an upturn in performances after that Stamford Bridge walloping we were still dropping points left right and centre. Even the top four was looking alarmingly far off and those above us were really starting to click into gear. 6 wins from 6 later and with the top four dropping points we are right back in the frame. Which is more, in those six games we not only seem to have found our best team but have played some encouraging football and shown some classic United grit. The most important thing is that It’s progress from the majority of the performances we put in when chasing the Champions League spots in the previous two seasons. We also look to have clearer purpose and direction under Mourinho and now possess genuine top quality match winners in the form of Ibra, Pogba and so on . It’s enough to suggest we should aim for a consolidated top four position rather than fighting until the very end of the season and given the ground we’ve had to make up this should remain our realistic target. The only worry is that the battle for those places looks more competitive than ever.
It's been a happy month for Jose Mourinho but he'll be under no illusions at the task ahead
Liverpool (H) - Crucial It may only be mid-January but the Liverpool game could be crucial in determining which of the above seems most likely. Win it and we can re-enter the title picture (albeit on the fringes), lose and we’ll be 8 points adrift of them whilst possibly slipping further behind Tottenham and Arsenal who face West Brom and Swansea. A draw wouldn’t be too bad but given that it’s at Old Trafford and Liverpool are facing a couple of key absentees we should sniff a massive opportunity for a vital 3 points.