Manchester United’s rise to the top of the Premier League table is no fluke.

United’s impressive half-season record is backed by consistent performances over the last calendar year, which has seen the club go unbeaten away from home during this span, and lose just three Premier League matches in total.

The FA Cup win over Liverpool felt like a big moment too. Last season we had to watch on painfully as they sauntered to their first league title in 30 years.

Now sitting above them in the league, the tables are beginning to reverse quickly. United are back on track and have a real chance to win title number 21 this season.

Manchester United v Liverpool: The Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round
(Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

A long way to go

Of course, we are just at the halfway stage. And we cannot get too carried away.

A lot can go wrong, whether it be injuries, loss of form, or the team struggling to cope with the pressure of a title challenge. The biggest threat comes from Pep Guardiola’s City, who currently look ominously good, although they have just suffered an injury to Kevin de Bruyne which will hurt them.

As Liverpool discovered in 2018/19, even a then record setting finish for a second place team sometimes isn’t enough when City get rolling. But we should be optimistic at this stage that we can outperform them between now and the end of the season if our players stay fit.

A moment to savour

Whatever happens between now and May, this is a moment to savour. United are top of the league and our future prospects look good.

Even if a league title slips from our grasp this season, the pieces are in place for sustained success. This is a strong team packed with determined and hungry players, and United plan to add to the squad in the summer and may even have one or two academy talents breaking through too.

You don’t even have to cautiously whisper it any more. It feels like you can safely say ‘United are back’.

This is normally the stage where over-confidence can bite you. But there shouldn’t be any arrogance attached to saying ‘United are back’. It is a statement of satisfaction, the simple pleasure of seeing Ole Gunnar prove his legions of doubters wrong.

It didn’t always look so simple. After a rocky start to the season, it was easy to worry if it was all going to fall apart. Unlike Frank Lampard at Chelsea, Solskjaer always kept the players on side. This ability to man-manage superstars has led to him leading United back to the top of the table.

It has been a long road

The past seven years have been tough to endure. David Moyes looked out of his depth from day one.

Louis van Gaal seemed like a sensible follow-up appointment. But after a promising pre-season in 2014, it also fell apart. He never once came close to mounting a title challenge, and the football United played was turgid and painful to watch.

 

Jose Mourinho won two cups in his opening season, but this did not lead to improvement. He failed to get close to a title challenge and never once topped the table in the second half of the season.

At the start of the 2016 and 2017 seasons it seemed United were set up for title challenges. It never happened. Even with a second placed finish in 2017/18, United were well off the pace.

Mourinho’s supporters will have some validity in blaming part of his failure on the board, but part of Solskjaer’s success is that he has found a way to work with the United bigwigs, not get frustrated, and deliver consistent results without getting his first choice transfer targets. Where Mourinho sulked, Solskjaer has ‘got on with it’ and is creating his own success.

If this is a false dawn under Solskjaer, then it is brighter and more promising than anything which came before it in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.

He is the first manager to top the Premier League table since Fergie left in the second half of the season.

FBL-ENG-FA CUP-MAN UTD-LIVERPOOL
(Photo by LAURENCE GRIFFITHS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Even if you have legitimate doubts whether Solskjaer can sustain this success over the second half of the season and convert this promise into a league title, this is a moment to be happy.

Enjoy it. We have been starved of genuine hope and success in recent years. Solskjaer has moved United closer. If you aren’t enjoying United’s league position and recent cup win over Liverpool, then at this point you are probably just looking for excuses not to.

Harsh judgements of Solskjaer will be made from the outside one way or another even if the league title gets decided on goal difference. Success, or failure. But it shouldn’t be so black and white. To be up there at all is beyond our expectations heading into the season.

It’s fine to worry if United can hold on during the next 18 games, and balance competing in two cup competitions.

But give the man credit. He is delivering so far, and in this moment, rival fans are beginning to fear United once again. Nobody wants to play Manchester United right now.

And despite our hopes of this sustaining, we recognise that this progress could evaporate with two or three bad results. We could find ourselves fighting for a top four place again if we lose momentum.

Whatever happens next, this is a moment to enjoy, after seven frustrating years, including moments last season and even at the start of this one, when the prospects of United topping the table again seemed lightyears away.

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