It's a clear run of fixtures of here into the new year; no more international breaks to disrupt rhythms and add bodies to the treatment table. Manchester United left domestic business on a season high before the break after registering that important win against the league leaders Arsenal. The momentum that such a result carries is usually enough to take you through another four or five wins on the bounce but alas, the international break meant that we had to spend the next couple of weeks wondering what the next 2 months could have in store for United.
Five points off the summit heading into the 12th fixture has put United firmly back in the reckoning for this season's title. The name of the game so far has been developing a bit of consistency in our season. 9 games unbeaten in all competitions has put us in a position to turn the heat on those above us in the league. City and Everton have since given way and 8th place has become 5th. The next round of games in the league presents us with an opportunity to launch ourselves into the top 4 for the first time since the opening weekend of this season's championship.
With Southampton visiting Arsenal on the Saturday and City hosting Spurs in the early fixture on Sunday, we have the chance to leapfrog 2 sides late Sunday evening if we can negotiate past a slippery trip to Wales too face Cardiff City for the first time in 68 years.
United have been dealt a couple of blows on the injury front from international duty with Phil Jones for England and Michael Carrick having to undergo an operation for a troublesome Achilles that has left him on the sidelines for the best part of 6 weeks. It means midfield will be a sore headache for the manager for the trip to Wales and for that tricky Champions League decider against Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday.
You'd still fancy United to get past Cardiff though given the quality that we have upfront, but after the shock City suffered there and the manner in which Spurs had to eek out a victory, it is not altogether impossible that we can come away from Cardiff without all three points. You'd like to think that the manager and players will appreciate the fact that beating Arsenal will have counted for nothing if we do not win at Cardiff. Winning a league title has always come down to how many 'small teams' you beat and not beating direct rivals simply because the supposed small ones are numerically more than the big ones and therefore mathematically the points tally from the bottom half teams will always outgun the tally from the top 4 or 5 sides.
Playing last has the advantage of knowing exactly what to do after knowing other teams' results but experience has also shown that it can work against you especially when all your rivals post positive results and the onus is on you to keep up. Ultimately though, the atmosphere down there will ensure that Sunday is feisty, so you hope that the players are up for a fight as that's what it could take to take all three points from the side that has fashioned itself as a potential banana skin for visiting top sides.
The Champions League resumes next week with a trip to Cologne to face Bayer Leverkusen in a match that will go a long way to deciding who qualifies from the group. Victory will guarantee us passage into the next phase of the competition, but defeat will make the final group game against Shaktar Donetsk at Old Trafford a play off final for the final spot in the group. We cannot afford to ourselves in that situation as we all know what happened last time we went into Match Day 6 with unresolved business. You'd therefore hope that in the least we grind out another draw if we cannot finish better than we did in Spain.
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!
Labels: PREVIEWS, UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE