Rene Meulensteen insists it is still too early to dismiss Manchester United as title challengers, as they continue to make progress on the pitch.
The Reds appeared to be written off almost as quickly as the current season began, with Swansea City inflicting a shock defeat on the 20-times champions on the opening day. Leicester City and Manchester City have also beaten United at the King Power Stadium and the Etihad Stadium respectively, whilst Sunderland, Burnley, West Bromwich Albion and Chelsea have held them to draws.
However, Louis van Gaal’s methods seem to be paying off in recent weeks, starting off with the 1-0 win against Crystal Palace in early November. This was followed by a 2-1 win at Arsenal, whilst Hull City and Stoke City have both been beaten at Old Trafford in the past four days to make it four wins on the bounce, as they look to better last season’s disappointing seventh-place finish.
Of course, the minimum requirement this term is a top-four position and a return to the UEFA Champions League. This they are currently on course for, and their win against the Potters lifted them to eight points within leaders Chelsea who have a game in hand. And although it would take a brave man to predict they can catch Jose Mourinho’s side, Meulensteen isn’t ruling it out.
“It’s not too late [for United to launch a title bid], but I think it’s maybe a little bit too early [to tell if they can catch Chelsea],” Sir Alex Ferguson’s former assistant told Sky Sports in the wake of the victory against Stoke. “It’s going to take something to catch Chelsea who look very, very strong but it’s a long season and it’s not even Christmas. The league will be decided in March or April.
“They are starting to buy in day-by-day and week-by-week what van Gaal and his staff want from the players and his style of play. You can hear at press conference that he is not totally happy, but they are winning games. They have two big games coming up against Southampton and then Liverpool and they simply have to take these game-by-game…week-by-week.”
United, meanwhile, suffered yet another injury blow – the 42nd of van Gaal’s reign – when Wayne Rooney was ruled out of the match against Stoke due to a knee injury, although it isn’t expected to rule him out for long. Argentina international Angel di Maria meanwhile, the club’s record signing at £59.6million, will miss the trip to Southampton on Monday night due to a hamstring injury.
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