Manchester United finished the year with the kind of incoherent performance that has had the fans a flutter this season. The 1-0 victory over Norwich required the most obliging opponents imaginable and a fair slice of luck. But the wins are coming now, and the club finish December more in expectation than in dread.
Norwich are scrambling to hold it together. Pretty this victory was not. The paperwork reads favourably, six wins on the trot and four clean sheets during that period. The problem arises when glancing at the league table. It is halfway through the season now, and United are a long way away from the hallowed ground.
With nineteen games played United have recorded ten victories and collected 34 points. At the same stage last season, United had 46 points and fifteen victories. That is a substantial difference, but it should be noted that United were not quite as lethal in the second half of the campaign last year. They only won 13 of the remaining fixtures.
If United continue to collect points at the current rate they will finish with 68 points. Last season that was enough to finish sixth, which is the position they currently reside in. To expect the team to win 18 of the remaining 19 seems a touch optimistic. Although if they did it, surely they would deserve to win the league.
A more realistic ambition would be to win 13 or 14 of the remaining games and collect, perhaps, another 40-45 points. It seems likely that a final total of 75-80 would be enough to finish in the top four, and probably the top three. Although the champions have finished with totals of 89, 89, 80 and 86 points in the past few seasons it is possible that total will be lower this time out.
The game against Norwich was a display that suggested Manchester United’s current league position of sixth is about right. If the club wish to climb the table in the new year, they will need to perform better than this. And they will need Wayne Rooney too.
There has been much hullabaloo about the qualities of Shinji Kagawa but given the opportunity to take centre stage he completely fluffed his lines. He appeared unfit and uninterested in the job at hand. Whilst some consideration must be taken into account for the cold weather and fixture congestion at Christmas, frankly, his attitude seems way off. It is a dam shame, his talent is unquestionable.
Nevertheless, it seems as if the truly dark days are behind United now. Losses to Everton and Newcastle felt catastrophic at the time but in hindsight reactions were overcooked. Both of those teams are having exceptional seasons and their victories were extremely narrow.
Six wins on the trot has sent a wave of optimism through the club. This morning Patrice Evra and Ashley Young have gone on the record talking about a title challenge. Whilst things are definitely moving in the right direction, a tilt at the top seems unlikely.