We all know that Manchester United provides a unique platform for any professional to test themselves on. It is unlike any other club. I would like to think that every good professional wants to win every single time they’re on that pitch; many accept that winning isn’t always possible, but there are that select few which still feel that is the standard they should be aiming for.
If your career at Old Trafford is successful it is more than likely that you have that attitude. Of course, with the best will in the world you can’t win every single game. At United, though, there is the expectation from the media to do so.
They recorded their fifth win on the trot at Southampton. The first of those wins came after a number of references to the start David Moyes made as manager and how Louis van Gaal wasn’t doing much better. Monday’s win has got some ranking them outsiders for the title.
I’m not going to write or say anywhere that I think United are favourites for the title but let’s have a look at the way the entire league has been effected in the last few weeks. People have talked about the money spent by Louis but has he provided something money can’t guarantee? The team spirit on display in the recent wins seems to suggest so. Yet that hasn’t fooled anyone into believing United are playing at the level they should be (and maybe that’s a good thing going into Sunday’s game).
It’s not just United, though. I look at the other nineteen teams and maybe there’s only Everton consistently playing at a level I expect. All teams have a wobble and we’ve even seen that with Chelsea’s trips to the North East. Mourinho’s team are still favourites but their results have opened the door to a number of teams – and yes, United are among them – to think they can have a realistic challenge for the league.
You can see a mile away that United are playing a far quicker style of football under Louis than they were under David. That much is obvious. He’s been braver and bolder and his direction is one he hasn’t faltered from. Okay, so it’s been rocky to say the least, but he has persevered with it and seems to be getting somewhere. There have been patches of good football against the so-called lesser sides at Old Trafford and this is what we’ll be hoping to see more of. Essentially what we want and need to see is the run of good results start to generate momentum and confidence.
Raised expectations are only natural. Manchester United are a national institution and, as I say, a special case. Their expectation is to be at the top of the table and eight points at this stage shouldn’t be a lead they should be scared of. Supporters will hear Louis van Gaal describing United as the best club in the world and they can start to believe it again; the players will hear it and know they have to start performing like it again. And the media people will wonder if his actions speak louder than words – well, he was able to convince Angel Di Maria to sign, and as I said, he has the strength of character to believe in himself.
Still, in spite of those elevated expectations from others, I hope that come what may, the assessment of United’s season is based on the circumstances within it. When we came up from Division Two in 1975 nobody knew what to expect; we finished third and it still serves as a great annoyance when I’m reminded about it because we could, and maybe should, have won the league that year. That said, we knew that from where we had come, third was more than anyone could expect. We exceeded even our own expectations even though we were confident in our own ability and scared of no-one.
United’s aim and expectation for the first year was to get back in to the Champions League and that looks as if it was a realistic hope based on what we have seen so far. If they are able to get into one of the automatic qualification positions then all the better. Perhaps the greater challenge for Louis van Gaal has been restoring the identity to Manchester United and slowly but surely, they’re getting there.