Do we Consider United Title Contenders if They Win the Manchester Derby?

United Manchester United Edinson Cavani
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Are United in the title race if they beat City?

In this truly unprecedented, unpredictable Premier League season and the year that is 2020, absolutely anything could happen from here.

Even the most optimistic Manchester United fans would have had serious doubts about a title challenge following their home defeat to Arsenal at the start of November, which put them down in 15th after seven games and nine points away from champions and league leaders, Liverpool.

However, a win at Goodison Park over Everton has sparked a perfect run of form that has catapulted the Red Devils into a position where they are now just five points off the top with a game in hand. Now, after fearing for his job, could Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lead his side to the most unlikely of title pushes?

With a crunch Manchester derby on the horizon, both clubs need to win in order to rectify very average starts to the campaign and ultimately, let the rest of England know they're in this until the end. Indeed, a win for United would send a signal to the rest of the league that they should not be underestimated, in what is frankly, looking like one of the most open looking title races in Premier League history.

If United win, do we now have to finally accept the 20-time champions as title contenders?

Man United v Man City Odds

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It doesn't matter the scoreline, this United have a sprinkle of Fergie Time in there

It’s never over until it is over with United, which is something we've known for three decades, but this year, the never die attitude of the club seems to be back.

Apart from the 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion, they have conceded first in the other five games they have won in the league, with unique successes over Brighton & Hove Albion, thanks to a penalty awarded after the full time whistle, and over Southampton, after being 2-0 down at the break, were particularly notable.

Fighting adversity with late goals, frantic finishes and remarkable comebacks was the United way when they enjoyed such great success under Sir Alex Ferguson, and the current crop are proving capable of replicating those past qualities that helped the club win honours on a regular basis.

Against West Ham United last time out, the club also fought back to 3-1, following an early opener from Thomas Soucek. Then, even a few days later, Solskjaer's men fell 3-0 down to RB Leipzig, to claw things back to 3-2 and came exceptionally close to snatching a third in stoppage time.

If they do, however, go 2-0 to a team of City's stature, things might be different, but you can back United at 16/1 to win from behind once more right here!

Manchester United Premier League Winner Odds

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Results on the road making the difference

Solskjaer’s side have not lost away from home in a domestic fixture since they went to Anfield in January, 19 games ago, and the last time they failed to win was on football’s return against Tottenham Hotspur in June, which ended 1-1.

In fact, United broke a club record of eight Premier League away wins in a row and truly become the best team on the road in the English top-flight and one of the very best within Europe.

However, the fact they are at home for the Manchester derby this weekend may be more of a hindrance, considering they have picked up just four points from their five league games at Old Trafford, and beat just West Brom here this season in the Premier League.

If Solskjaer can get his team playing again on their own patch, then, combined with their unstoppable away form, United could really continue to put intense pressure on the early pacesetters and perhaps hold continue something other clubs can't: winning away from home.

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Are they over reliant on Bruno Fernandes?

The club is blessed to have one of the most influential players in world football in their ranks with Bruno Fernandes and the Portuguese is already becoming arguably the greatest United signing in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.

Even though many of Fernandes’ goals for club have been from the penalty spot, his overall contribution to the side in match-winning performances on a consistent basis has been crucial. In fact, the Portuguese midfielder has 17 goal involvements in 17 appearances across this season and only the best duo in Europe right now boast more from a Premier League player in all competitions: Harry Kane and Son Heung-min

Of course, however, a United side that fails to make it out of the groups in the Champions League is clearly a disjointed one, and in this case, their defence has let them down once again. Clearly, something needs to be done about their defensive woes because it is extremely unlikely, regardless of the attacking talent they have, that they will be able to perform miraculous comebacks every week, especially in a derby.

In seven of their last nine games, United have conceded the first goal, with Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaska and David De Gea singled out for individual criticism, and it has resulted in four defeats in that time, including the damaging Champions League elimination.

With City up next, the backline will be tested to its limits by one of world football’s most feared attacking forces, and a return to some solidity in this area could go a long way in earning United a result.

Manchester United Premier League Odds

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Ending up in the Europa League has done them no favours

After failing to get the point they needed from their final two Champions League group stage fixtures, United were sent packing from the competition by RB Leipzig in the week and will play Europa League football once again after Christmas.

It really does tell a tale of the club these days, how having fought back from 12 points behind pre-Project Restart, to finish in the Champions League sports, has now been near worthless and put them back in the Europa League anyway. And, to further cast a light on United's woeful Champions League exit, the club were the only English side not advance from their respective European group campaign, with Leicester City, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal, City and Liverpool all advancing as group winners.

Solskjaer coped pretty well with the Europa League schedule last season before it was forced to stop, partially thanks to drawing sub-standard opposition in Club Brugge and LASK Linz, which meant heavy rotation was still sufficient in seeing them through. The club were eventually knocked out when they met Sevilla in the semi-finals last season, which again, proved their worth as they were outclassed and outworked by a superior side, who they should be beating.

However, in a more densely compressed season, the additional knockout round in February will cause serious problems, mainly because of travelling. In the Europa League, the usual nearby destinations like Spain, Italy and Germany, are swapped for countries that add a couple more hundred miles, like Kazakhstan and the Czech Republic and this will no doubt have an impact.

It will force extra hours on the clock, less sleep, more time for recovery needed and further trouble for the calendar, particularly if they're still in the League Cup and the FA Cup.

Only time will tell if United are truly title contenders, but a win over the second favourites in a must-win derby for either side really does prove their worth, and, will keep them within five points and with a game in hand. Whether you like it or not, United could even be top in a matter of weeks, if their league form continues.

By Andrew Delaney

Manchester United Europa League Odds

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