After their Manchester derby defeat put them five points behind archrivals City in the Premier League table, Manchester United responded with back-to-back league wins over Everton and Sunderland and four consecutive wins in all competitions prior to the current international break.
United must keep that positive momentum going coming out of the international break. Maximum points from league fixtures against Swansea and Newcastle are a must to at least keep pace with City, and there’s also a big home Champions League tie against Benfica that could decide top spot in Group C.
Manchester United v SL Benfica
Advancing to the knockout rounds in the Champions League is always a must for United, but winning the group is also considered a top priority, given that it often means a favorable round of 16 matchup.
United have finished top of their Champions League group each of the last five seasons, and they’re in a good position to make it six in a row. United and Benfica are currently level at the top of the group with eight points, with Basel third on five points. If United take all three points against Benfica on 22 November and Basel fail to win in Romania against bottom side Otelul Galati, United will have top spot in Group C wrapped up ahead of next month’s group finale away to Basel.
When these two sides met in September at the Estadio da Luz, the end result was a 1-1 draw, with a Ryan Giggs stunner and a fine performance by Anders Lindegaard securing a point. In that clash, United didn’t field their strongest possible side, but with so much on the line when they face off at Old Trafford, expect Fergie to field an extremely strong side and more than likely go with two up front from the outset after starting Wayne Rooney as the lone striker in the tie in Lisbon.
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Swansea City v Manchester United
Coming out of the international break, United have a tricky trip to Wales to take on promoted side Swansea City on the 19th.
Swansea City struggled out of the gate, losing two and drawing two in their first four matches. But they’ve gone a respectable 3-2-2 since and have moved into the top half of the table. The Swans have yet to be beaten at home, going 3-2-0 in five home matches, and they held Liverpool to a goalless draw at Anfield in their last match before the break.
Along with being tough at home, Swansea have picked up valuable experience against several of the top sides in the Premier League, as they’ve already played at City, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool. Sure, they have only the one point against Liverpool to show for it, but they held City for almost an hour and also went down only 1-0 at the Emirates. So, they’ll be ready for what the reigning champions will throw at them, which means United will have to put in a quality performance to leave the Liberty Stadium victorious.
Manchester United v Newcastle United
Coming into the season, this might have been seen as three guaranteed points for United, and a United win is expected when Newcastle go to Old Trafford on the 26th. However, given the hot start the Magpies have had this season, it might be harder than expected. Newcastle are unbeaten in their first 11 league matches and sit a surprising third in the Premier League table, only one point behind United. They haven’t had too many stiff tests as of yet, but that doesn’t take the shine off of what they’ve accomplished to date.
Newcastle might be hoping to catch United in letdown mode after the Champions League tie with Benfica, but United will certainly have to taken Alan Pardew’s side very seriously, especially if they are able to, at the very least, make City sweat when they visit the Etihad Stadium the week before they face United.
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