At every point in a season there will come a run of fixtures which could make or break where you end up finishing.
That time for Manchester United is now.
In a time frame of just under two weeks, Jose Mourinho’s side will face off against Watford and Arsenal away from home before welcoming league leaders Manchester City to Old Trafford for the first Manchester Derby of the season.
Locked in between the Arsenal and City matches is a home clash with CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, a fixture in which the Red Devils will need just a point to guarantee qualification for the knockout stages. A sigh of relief – a trip to Russia could have made things much more difficult.
As it stands in the Premier League, United sit eight points behind their crosstown rivals and if everything doesn’t go to plan in these fixtures the title race may be all but over.
Mourinho will need his squad primed and focused for what is arguably their biggest run of fixtures for the entire season.
In recent seasons, a trip to Watford may have sounded like United would walk away with three points and continue their merry way but things are certainly different in 2017-18. United fans just have to cast their mind back to last season to realise the damage the Hornets are capable of after inflicting a 3-1 loss on Mourinho’s side.
And this season, under new manager Marco Silva, Watford are pushing for European football currently sitting in eighth position on the table after some fine form. They find themselves in the midst of a two game win streak which included a comfortable 3-0 away to Newcastle United on the weekend.
One man who has been central to their success in summer signing Richarlison who has registered five goals and three assist thus far this season. And if the Brazilian can get off the leash against United, he may well put a big dent in their title ambitions.
In his pre-match press conference, Mourinho noted the progression of Watford under Silva, saying: “I think Watford have made progress. I think they have a squad full of very good players, that are not normal to be a mid-table team. They have a good coach and they improved a lot from last season.”
Come Wednesday morning AEDT, United may well have felt the full brunt of the Hornets’ improvement as an intriguing clash awaits.
Mourinho vs Arsene Wenger is a battle we all love to watch, whether we support the team they are in charge of or not. They simply do not get along and it is a joy to watch. As always is the case between the pair, you simply don’t know what you are going to get from either of them.
And that has been the case for Arsenal for much of the early running of the Premier League season. In recent weeks they have shown they can beat the in-form teams of the competition after picking up maximum points against Tottenham and Burnley.
But on other occasions a disappointing Arsenal will show up and look more like a mid-table side rather than a team competing for European football – let alone a title challenger. United have themselves have struggled to recapture their early season form in recent weeks, so this fixture could easily go either way.
Manchester City (home)
The December 10 fixture between the two sides means we finally get the match that many of us have been waiting for. If United are to drop points in either of the two prior fixtures, nothing short of a victory would be acceptable if they want to remain in the title race this campaign.
While United prepare to face off against Watford and Arsenal on the road, City prepare for a two game homestand against Southampton and struggling West Ham. Looking on their season so far they may as well be marked down for maximum points, as they look unstoppable but then again football is a funny game.
If both sides pick up six points from six in their next two games, United could close the gap to five next month heading into a busy Christmas and New Year period which would make things interesting.
Heading into these three games, Mourinho’s men control their own destiny as they look to add to the club’s 20 league titles.