Manchester United were helped by a rather poor post-Christmas schedule to extend their unbeaten run in all competitions to eight games ahead of the Manchester Derby.
Pep Guardiola’s Cityzens came to town a little sluggish, but Jack Grealish’s opener in the second half put them in a fantastic position to walk away from Old Trafford with three points and bragging rights. Then, in the space of four memorable and controversial minutes, the Red Devils turned the tide. A 1-0 deficit soon turned into a 2-1 advantage. Dream Theater was alive and kicking.
United’s victory over their troublesome neighbors cemented their legitimacy under Erik ten Hag. While a title charge may be out of their reach, they are in an excellent position to return to the Champions League by finishing in the Premier League.
Ten Hag could not have asked for a tougher tie as they were paired against Barcelona in the play-offs. The victor will advance to the Round of 16, where Arsenal, Real Betis and Real Sociedad will await. They could also be joined by Juventus, Ajax, Roma and Sporting CP if each of those teams wins their play-off.
And so, while United are one of the favorites to win the Europa League, the competition is stiff.
In the Premier LeagueThe Red Devils currently have a healthy advantage over some of their potential rivals. While Newcastle equaled their point total after playing a game more, United are comfortably ahead of Tottenham (five points), Liverpool and Chelsea (both ten) in the standings. Fulham, Brighton and Brentford are all European hopefuls, but none of these teams are expected to be in contention for a top-four berth.
So while there is still a long way to go, United are in a very strong position to qualify for the Champions League by securing fourth place.
Manchester United’s remaining Premier League matches (4th, 18 played, 38 points)
Newcastle’s remaining Premier League matches (3rd, 19 played, 38 points)
Tottenham’s remaining Premier League matches (5th, 19 played, 33 points).
Liverpool’s remaining Premier League matches (9, 18 played, 28 points).
Chelsea’s remaining Premier League matches (10th, 19 played, 28 points).