Just taking a look at how the Premier League table has changed from the end of October to the end of November easily illustrates how successful a month it was for Manchester United.
We exited October having found some measure of consistency in our results, even if it was still missing from our performances, and we were able to build off of that in November. Our winning streak may have stopped at six, and our unbeaten streak may have fallen one short of 30, but we are now in a better position than we’ve been in all season. Tuesday’s Carling Cup rout at the hands of West Ham certainly wasn’t the way that anyone would have liked to see the month end, but it’s worth remembering that our unbeaten streak could have been ended at least a few times before it hit 29.
But thanks to our ever-present resilience, the defeat at Upton Park, disappointing as it is to lose out on the chance at a Carling Cup three-peat, was the only real blemish in the month. With how rocky the first few months of the season had been, we were due for a smoother month, and though November wasn’t silky smooth by any means, it was filled with a lot less bumps than we encountered from August through much of October.
And finally we saw Manchester United play like well, Manchester United. Man, that feels good to say.
Bursaspor 0-3 Manchester United (11/2, UEFA Champions League): You’ve got to give a little credit to Bursaspor for being able to keep us at bay for the entire first half after allowing the early goal at Old Trafford. However, when we finally breached their backline, we managed to score more goals in the span of a half hour than we had up to that point in almost 320 minutes of Champions League football this season.
Manchester United 2-1 Wolves (11/6, Premier League): Another game, another unlikely hero. We made much harder work of this one than we should have, surrendering a second-half lead against Wolves as we had (twice) a week and a half prior against the same side in the Carling Cup. In the end, we took the three points we expected to take, thanks to Park, who more than made up for some disappointing performances earlier in the season by scoring in each half, including a late winner.
Manchester City 0-0 Manchester United (11/10, Premier League): From a viewer’s standpoint, this one proved to be a major disappointment after all of the thrilling finishes last season. Instead of allowing us to break their hearts in the late stages like we did not once, not twice, but three times last season, City’s tight defending saw a Premier League opponent blank us for the first time since Blackburn did last April.
It says something about how Roberto Mancini perceives his team and ours that, instead of sending his squad out with license to take full advantage of a questionable backline and go for the three points, he sent them out to play less to win and more to not lose. But I digress.
Aston Villa 2-2 Manchester United (11/13, Premier League): In time, we could look at this as ‘the’ turning point of our season. With 15 minutes left, we were hurtling towards our first defeat of the season, as Villa had scored twice in five minutes – and could have had even more – to take control of the match.
And then…we woke up. We woke up, and we snatched a point that we may not have deserved based on the first 75 minutes. And in the span of a little over a day, it went from being our most fortunate point of the season to being an extremely valuable point, with Chelsea shockingly going down at home to Sunderland. My, how the tide can turn in a flash.
Manchester United 2-0 Wigan (11/20, Premier League): After putting five past Wigan in both of our Premier League encounters against them last season, it was reasonable to expect a comfortable and comprehensive win against the Latics. And when you have a two-man advantage for almost half an hour, it was reasonable to expect the floodgates to open then, especially considering our penchant for lighting it up in the second half this season.
Rangers 0-1 Manchester United (11/24, UEFA Champions League): ROONEY! ROONEY! ROONEY!
Manchester United 7-1 Blackburn (11/27, Premier League): It was only a matter of time, wasn’t it? After scraping past opponent after opponent, we were due to lay the wood on someone, and lay the wood we did on poor Blackburn, who didn’t have a chance from the word go. The blood hadn’t really had a chance to start flowing by the time Dimitar Berbatov scored his first goal, but Blackburn were certainly unable to recover from the quick-fire haymaker, and even after the TKO was recorded, Unite didn’t let up.
It remains to be seen what Berba will do for the remainder of his time in a Manchester United shirt, but whatever happens, he etched his name in United lore and in the Premier League record books with his five-goal outburst. I don’t know what he ate for breakfast on Saturday morning, but it was a heck of a lot different than whatever he’d been having the last couple of months.
I’m a little disappointed that we weren’t able to wrap up the win by a touchdown (or a try and a conversion, for those into the rugby), but it was charitable of us (and the referee, perhaps) to let Blackburn have a little consolation.
And as, er, awesome as it was to ascend to the top of the Premier League table all by our lonesome for the first time all season, it was even nicer that we ended the weekend that way after Newcastle obliged and held Chelsea to a draw on Sunday.
West Ham 0-4 Manchester United (11/30, Carling Cup): The less that’s said, the better, really. I’m inclined to believe that the outcome would have been different had it been at Old Trafford, but if not, it’s much better to take that kind of defeat away from home than at home.
So here we are, entering the final month of 2010 atop the Premier League table. It’s far from a rare sight to see Manchester United at the top of the heap, but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s far more than I expected even a few weeks ago.
No, I’m not speaking negatively about United, more so looking at how quickly Chelsea have relinquished top spot. I would have taken being two or three points behind them coming into this month, but as it stands, we could come out of that Arsenal-Chelsea back-to-back in a favorable position no matter what happens.
Do we deserve to be at the top? It sure hasn’t been pretty, but in the big picture, it’s much less about how pretty we play and much more about being able to get the results we need to get the silverware we want.
And in that respect, we definitely do deserve to be top, if for no other reason than our ability to stay out of trouble far better than our rivals. As displeasing as those seven draws might be, our ability to leave Fulham, Everton, Bolton, Sunderland, Stoke, City, and Villa without a defeat gets put into a far more positive perspective when you look at how our title rivals haven’t been so fortunate.
Of course, getting there doesn’t matter if we don’t stay there, and that’s the big question, going into a tremendously tricky month. We can’t just look zero in on Arsenal and Chelsea as the matches to be up for. Every opponent has to be taken seriously, from our visits to Blackpool and Birmingham, to our visit from Sunderland, who, as we saw at Stamford Bridge, have the goods to come into Old Trafford and leave with a result.
It’s huge that we’ve been such a resilient side this season, and it’s big that the contributions we’ve needed have seemingly come from a different source every time out, whether it’s Berbatov, or Hernandez, Rooney, or Vidic, or Park, or Fletcher, or someone else. But as far as resiliency and variety have gotten us this season, hopefully it will be accompanied by more frequent appearances of our quality. And on that note, early returns indicate that the fire looks to be burning brightly for Wayne Rooney, and it looks to have permeated through the team.
We should know better than to get ahead of ourselves, so there can’t be too many celebrations over the Blackburn win and our place at the pinnacle of the Premier League table.
But I feel like the best is yet to come from United, and that could prove to haunt the rivals who didn’t get separation from us when they had ample opportunity to.
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