Manchester United has lost three of their last six games in all competitions, which is particularly concerning given the club’s upcoming schedule.
Baffling losses to Young Boys and Aston Villa, as well as a home EFL Cup exit to West Ham, took the sting out of Cristiano Ronaldo’s first brace against Newcastle (albeit the cracks that would form the current crisis were visible in that game). Worse, their only two victories in this span have come as a result of last-minute heroics (and a stoppage-time penalty save).
United hasn’t performed well in what feels like an eternity, which would normally be a bad thing but maybe remedied by a short run of games coming up, especially with the international break enabling certain players to rest.
The Red Devils, on the other hand, will have to drive straight into the storm once the break is done. United’s final six games before the international break are tough, and we run the rule over them and the probable outcomes. Witness!
Leicester City vs Manchester United
16 October – King Power Stadium – Premier League
United return from the international break with a trip to the Midlands to play Leicester. The Foxes are currently languishing in mid-table off the back of some pretty miserable performances, having won just one of their last seven games — and that was an EFL Cup tie against Millwall.
Leicester’s struggles should in theory make them easy pickings for United, but it’s worth recalling that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men didn’t beat Brendan Rodgers’ side in any of their three meetings last season, drawing 2-2 at the King Power, getting dumped out of the FA Cup 3-1 and then losing at Old Trafford (with a reserve side) 1-2.
The Foxes are a powerful defensive outfit that roars forward on the counter-attack, which is exactly what United have been struggling with lately. And with Jamie Vardy in superb form (six goals to lead the Golden Boy race alongside Mohamed Salah) that becomes a real problem. This is a definite banana skin type of game. However, due to Leicester’s own woes as well as the return to fitness of Marcus Rashford MBE (the lightning in a bottle that should make this United attack click) the Red Devils should have the firepower to just blitz through.
Prediction: Leicester 1-2 Manchester United
Manchester United vs Atalanta
20 October – Old Trafford – Champions League
Man United has never played Atalanta before, therefore there is no terrible history to be concerned about. Of course, Atalanta’s rapid and fluid style of football under Gian Piero Gasperini is something to be concerned about. They’re a pressing machine that floods the break quickly, using width to hammer the sides. They can be a nightmare to play against, and the possibility of them ripping United apart, as Athletic Bilbao did a decade ago, is quite real.
However, similar to Leeds United in the Premier League, their offensive and wide style of play makes them vulnerable to simple, quick, and direct play into the middle of the field. So, while they have the potential to crush United, it’s also possible that United will just slice through them like a hot knife through butter (like they did to RB Leipzig last season). And that’s likely to happen in a must-win Champions League game at Old Trafford, with Cristiano Ronaldo playing a team against whom he’s scored three times in six games.
Prediction: Manchester United 4-2 Atalanta
Manchester United vs Liverpool
24 October – Old Trafford – Premier League
Much as the Atalanta game will lift everyone’s hope up for the Red Devils, the Liverpool fixture will bring everyone crashing down to earth with a great big bump. To put it simply: Liverpool are much, much, much better than Manchester United. As a team they play with more coherence, stability and structure.
Player-for-player United can compete, and may even be superior overall, but unlike Solskjaer, who depends on his players’ exceptional brilliance to carry him, Jurgen Klopp’s approach actively improves all of his players. Good turns into great, great turns into brilliant, brilliant turns into world-class, and world-class turn into whatever plane of reality Mohamed Salah is currently functioning on.
Klopp seemed to be frightened of Old Trafford for some strange reason. Klopp has only won once as Liverpool manager, and it was during a tight period last season when United had to play four games in eight days due to fixture congestion. The Reds were the fourth team in that run, and they had just beaten a tired United.
Despite the fact that this match is also in the middle of a gruelling schedule, United will have had more time to rest. Liverpool will undoubtedly score; Salah scored against United in the FA Cup last season, so good luck stopping him; yet, United should have enough to avoid defeat as Klopp returns to form at his ‘bogey’ venue.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-2 Liverpool
30 October – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – Premier League
If they played each other now, Man Utd would walk all over Spurs. However there are three weeks to go until this game and Spurs’ run of fixtures leading up to hosting United is, bar a London derby with West Ham, positively serene.
Spurs will be in better physical shape, especially Harry Kane who should actually be match fit by then. Kane and Son Heung-min destroyed United last season, and while Nuno Espirito Santo doesn’t quite have the same mojo as Jose Mourinho, he also has form for knocking United off balance when they’re on a roll. He was the second manager to beat United during Solskjaer’s initial great run as caretaker boss.
United will head into this game full of confidence given their results, but they will also be starting to feel the burn mentally. It’s draining playing so many big games, and so, when some sloppy play (there’s always sloppy play) gives Spurs a chance that they take, likely through the excellence of Son, United will find it harder to rouse themselves for a comeback.
Prediction Spurs 3-2 Manchester United
Atalanta vs Manchester United
2 November – Stadio di Bergamo – Champions League
Remember all those things that applied to United facing Atalanta at Old Trafford? Well, it’s the same again except this time without the roar of the crowd and with the fatigue of four hellacious games in their legs, United will not have the same drive in Bergamo. Atalanta, though, smarting from their Old Trafford loss, will unleash hell on the Red Devils and tear them apart, reversing the score from the first game.
Prediction Atalanta 4-2 Manchester United
Manchester United vs Manchester City
6 November – Old Trafford – Premier League
Manchester City is quite simply too good. They are much better than Manchester United and pretty much everyone not named Chelsea or Bayern Munich, really. Pep Guardiola’s men are playing stupendous football and have already been to Anfield and Stamford Bridge, and despite Thomas Tuchel’s war machine, and two Salah miracles, they’ve come away with four points.
Guardiola has made winning at Old Trafford something of a habit, too. He’s won there every single season he’s been at City (albeit in 2019/20 he lost in the league, but did win in the EFL Cup) and that isn’t going to change in 2021/22.
City have a relatively easy path towards the Manchester Derby, with only Brighton away having the potential to be as taxing as any of United’s games over the same period. Meanwhile United of course have to slog through all the above fixtures, a brutal gauntlet that will drain their players of mental and physical energy. Then at the end of all that they have to rouse themselves and play the best team in the world.
There’s just no way they’ll be able to lift themselves. Maybe they’ll start fast, because of the Old Trafford crowd, but it won’t take long for City to establish a strangehold on the midfield and thus over the entire match. Ronaldo loves to score against the Guardiola teams and Rashford is dynamite in Manchester Derbies, but City simply won’t let them have the ball.
In the end, City will make it seven points out of a possible nine from their three hardest away trips in the season and United will suffer their third straight defeat. This will be the first time they’ve lost three in a row since April 2019, which was capped, amusingly enough, by a 0-2 home loss to Manchester City.
Prediction: Manchester United 0-2 Manchester City
So that’s that. Six games in one month, two wins, a draw and three defeats. Seven points out of a possible 18. That’s really not great and Solskjaer will be feeling the heat again. However, he will be saved (just like he has been this time) by the arrival of the international break in early November. And when they return from that time out, they will have a comfortable match against Watford.
But don’t think it’ll be plain sailing for United after that because they then have to travel away to Villarreal who they only barely beat at Old Trafford, and that was with a David de Gea masterclass and a last-second winner. A trip to El Madrigal will not be easy.
Then after that, they’ve got the small matter of visiting Stamford Bridge where European champions Chelsea lie in wait. Finally, they will host Arsenal, the one big club Solskjaer has never been able to crack (after he beat them in his first match, anyway).
Those games are all too far away to reasonably predict, but you can be sure that things will not calm down for United until December when all they have to contend with is the freezing cold and the legendarily jam-packed English winter football calendar.
Ole’s at the wheel! But he’s got to drive that club through a brutal storm of fixtures. Can he make it out the other side? There’s only one way to find out and that’s to wait and see what happens.
Please follow @Familyliferinfo on Twitter
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.