After United breezed past one mid-table side last weekend with relative ease, fans hope this weekend will be just as formulaic. It is likely that Aston Villa will provide a sterner test than the side that arrived at Old Trafford a week ago, who were what can only be described as a real poverty team.
Although performances haven’t been spectacular, they haven’t needed to be. This would usually be the time the ever insightful pundit Andy Townsend would roll out the cliché, if you can’t be good, be lucky.
This world has seen many atrocities. Natural disasters, genocides, chemical warfare, Kerry Katona. Each as upsetting and as mentally scarring as the last. Features of this existence that make many question whether it’s worth bringing children into this world. Only one event could single headedly overshadow these barbaric occurrences. Leaving them all to pale in significance.
Of course this humanity-destroying, hope-dissolving, prospect-disintegrating event would be Liverpool wining the Premier League title.
The only way to start this preview is to simply to say, even Liverpool beat this lot.
Something that after last season is said with immense satisfaction. Part of the reason for this satisfaction is that last season this fixture would have been labelled a “mid table clash” with very little consequence. Arsenal and Liverpool fans revelled in United’s mediocrity. Twelve months later this fixture rolls around again, but this time it is a key 90 minutes in the battle for the top four.
Whisper it, but United might be on the way to redemption. They’re not quite there, of course, but November was as encouraging a month as we had witnessed since lifting the trophy in May 2013. Three games, nine points, two clean sheets and a first away win, all while United’s direct rivals for fourth place – which, like it or not, is the only realistic target for this season – dropped points, allowing Louis Van Gaal’s troops to sneak into the top four.
Beating the likes of Crystal Palace and Hull City at home should be a routine exercise for United, but if last season taught us anything is that nothing should be taken for granted and, therefore, November’s mini-revival was more than welcome, particularly as it’s been achieved with a squad ravaged by injuries.
A win against Stoke would lift United within one point of third place, ahead of Southampton’s trip to the Emirates tomorrow night, but Mark Hughes’ men are likely to prove a sterner test than Hull did on Saturday.
If anyone has come down from the result last weekend then I’d recommend watching a clip of Kieran Gibbs’ face on repeat after the fullback inadvertently directed the ball into his own net on Saturday evening. United have seen victory more times at the Emirates than Olivier Giroud has seen his wife over the last 12 months, but this time it felt different.
Despite the performance this was the result United deserved and after a gradual improvement of performances against Chelsea and City that didn’t see wins materialise , victory was welcomed with open arms. Now it feels like United could be at the start of something special and the next run of fixtures sees an opportunity to storm back into contention for the top spots. This begins with Hull tomorrow afternoon.
While we wait to find out whether Daley Blind’s knee injury will keep him out for six days, six weeks, six months or six years, proper football makes a welcome return as the third international break in as many months is finally behind us.
As it’s becoming the norm this season, United are decimated by injuries and confidence isn’t exactly sky-high ahead of a testing trip to the Emirates. A last minute draw against Chelsea was followed by a somewhat unfortunate defeat against City and an unconvincing win against Crystal Palace, which has left United a point behind Saturday’s opponents and just two adrift of fourth place.
In May last year Yannick Bolasie tore past Glenn Johnson, exposing him for the over weight, overrated and over priced footballer he really is. Powering into the penalty area and whipping in a delightful cross for Dwight Gayle to stab into the net, willed on by United fans across the globe, and in doing so destroying all hope for Liverpool fans that it might finally be their year.
Make us dream, scousers whispered into their tear soaked Luis Suarez jerseys, possession of which was soon to become as painful as waking up to another day in Liverpool.
The usual format for an article is to open with a witty introduction filled with crudely constructed similes and metaphors designed to distract the reader from what is unlikely to be the most interesting piece of sports journalism they will read this week. Sunday’s match needs no introduction. This derby is massive.