Turning up for the biggest games was kind of Manchester United’s ‘thing’ last season.
Bizarrely, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were beating Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham and Leicester, as well as being the first side to take any points off Liverpool, yet losing to Crystal Palace, West Ham, Newcastle, Bournemouth, Watford and Burnley.
In 2020/21, it has almost been a 180 degrees reversal. This season, United have, for the most part, won the games they would be expected to win, and have instead failed to take all three points in a single outing against one of the typical ‘Big Six’.
United were beaten by both Tottenham and Arsenal in the autumn, the former a 6-1 annihilation that briefly looked like it could be the beginning of the end for Solskjaer. There have also been 0-0 draws with Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal. But no victories across six games.
This is a major reason why United’s title challenge quickly fell short and why Manchester City have now been able to race ahead instead.
Beating ‘the rest’ most of the time will only get a team so far, and it is what the top sides do against each other that will usually dictates who comes out top of the pile overall come May.
Despite initially going behind – it happens so often these days that fans are basically numb to it – United were relatively comfortable in the end as they beat Newcastle last weekend. The team has also progressed without much issue in the Europa League since then and the players must take that momentum into the clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
United will not realise their ambitions of being crowned champions again any time soon if they don’t start to win at least a few of these games. Worse still, it will prevent them from even being safe in the hunt for a top four place, especially if the kind of blips recently against Everton, throwing away a 2-0 lead and later a stoppage time equaliser, and West Brom are anything more permanent.
There is no time like the present to take that next step.