It is not easy to describe the current Manchester United side.
They currently occupy a curious limbo between not threatening a title pursuit while appearing extremely comfortable in a top-four slot.
Recent performances have been far from vintage yet the results – and perhaps more crucially, the nature of them – have been significant. Comeback wins over Chelsea and Crystal Palace alongside a draw in Sevilla, hint at a resilience and team spirit.
They may not be the league’s great entertainers but it is easy to imagine why boss Jose Mourinho will be satisfied with progress.
A season-defining week
Since the Portuguese was instilled in the dugout in 2016, both Chelsea and Manchester City have run away with league titles while Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur have accumulated more league points over that time period.
On the flip side, United have won two major trophies under his guidance and remain well placed for further progress in both the FA Cup and Champions League.
Despite all the furore regarding the form of Jurgen Klopp’s and Mauricio Pochettino’s sides, it is Manchester United who currently lead the race for second spot.
That could all change on Saturday as the Red Devils host Liverpool, who they lead by two points. A home victory could make their advantage over the Merseyside club decisive while a defeat would take a top-two finish out of their hands.
The clash will be followed by the Champions League return leg against Sevilla, with the tie tantalisingly poised, before an FA Cup quarterfinal with Brighton.
All three games will be played at Old Trafford, a ground at which Mourinho has suffered defeat just twice as a home manager in 51 matches – both to Manchester City.
This season, Manchester United’s home form has delivered 16 wins from 19 outings and if such a record continues it will finally begin to fulfil the early-season promise displayed by the team.
Despite two trophies last season, Manchester United’s sixth-placed finish was not acceptable and to be four places better off represents significant and tangible progress, while the FA Cup now offers a clear chance of further silverware.
Manchester City’s elimination followed the exits of Arsenal and Liverpool, while Spurs and Chelsea both face tough away assignments in the quarterfinals.
In terms of their European ambitions, it must not be forgotten that the last time Manchester United participated in the Champions League knockout stages, David Moyes was manager of the club.
Such was the Red Devils fall from grace following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, they had appeared only once across the past three seasons in Europe’s premier club competition. Even then, Wolfsburg and PSV Eindhoven toppled an out-of-sorts Manchester United side.
This season’s group was undoubtedly a favourable one although the manner of progression was professional and streetwise as they topped their group with a minimum of fuss.
Being paired with Sevilla was a step up but again, offered a strong chance of progression. A scoreless draw in Andalucia must be viewed as acceptable in light of the hosts having lost just once in the stadium across the previous 16 months. They now know any sort of home victory will suffice in sealing their progression to the quarterfinals.
Mourinho’s side are still battling on three fronts and now face a make or break run of games in eight days and will lean once more on their formidable home record.
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