Winning away from home has, everything else considered, been the detriment to having a much better season. The curse is so strong that United have struggled at venues like the Huish Park of Yeovil Town and Cambridge United's Abbey Stadium. It follows now that every away game in the premier league is now seen by pundits as potentially dropped points for United (the popular opinion is a draw in tomorrow's fixture against Swansea City). It's not so much that United are losing away games but that that they are failing to win them. Indeed, United have, in the circumstances done very well to lose just 4 games in the league all season. It's the draws column that is frustrating our desire to pull away from the other Champions League chasing sides.
The last time we made the journey from the Liberty Stadium in Wales, we had just beaten tomorrow's opponents 1-4 with Wayne Rooney attracting a handful of jeers from a section of the United fans despite setting up two goals. The captain was at the time subject of a transfer to Chelsea. More damningly, the result that day sent us to the top of the premier league. It was David Moyes' first league game in charge.
Suffice it is to say that a lot of water has passed under the bridge since. Wayne is now the captain of the club and now has an army of fans on his side to get him playing up top as opposed to being a makeshift midfielder. David Moyes has since been sacked and United have, since that day, not seen the summit of the premier league. In fact, the summit of the league will be the last thing on United's minds come Saturday because the club has since embraced a new challenge--getting back into the Champions League.
At Christmas, it appeared United would easily pull away from the chasing pack and launch a pseudo title challenge. As it turned out, the race for the final two Champions League places is already more intriguing than the title race itself. Chelsea will win the league but you can't really put your finger on who of Southampton, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs alongside ourselves will miss out on elite football next term. With the gap between all sides within a 5 point margin, it's easy to relinquish a seemingly comfortable position.
Ahead of the run-in, the gauntlet is very much available for the side that puts together a consistent run to pull away from the rest. On paper, United are best equipped to do that simply because most of the other sides have European commitments between now and at least the end of March. Financial implications and indeed the desire to return to the big time means that Champions League football shades the FA Cup in terms of priority.
A run of one defeat in 19 in all competitions means that United have been at least good enough to pick up a point every game----although the absence of an element of risk in our football has denied us all three points if we had approached certain games in a no holds-barred fashion.
Swansea City shocked the footballing world by beating Louis van Gaal back in August on his Old Trafford debut but even they will acknowledge that a lot has changed since. For starters, half the players that will line up against them tomorrow did not take part in those August proceedings. That is not to suggest Gary Monk's side are easier to beat. Not by a long shot. We have struggled almost every time we've come up against a side that can mix the counter attack with deep lying defending. United need to vary their movement upfront to fashion more opportunities.
The 4-4-2 diamond has quickly become a disguised 3-5-2 hence the almost similar lethargic displays but at least Di Maria is running from deep at defenders. That can only help our cause as it did against Burnley when he won us our first penalty of the season. Imagine how many more we could have won if he can been running at defences since September. Ultimately though, if the winner comes from a ma
zy run from the Argentine or a long ball to Fellaini lashed in, three points will be massive on a weekend where our rivals seem to be facing awkward fixtures.
We have a decent record at the Liberty Stadium, at least there's a reason to go easy on the nails come kickoff tomorrow.