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United beat Liverpool, De Bruyne & Vardy out: Could Solskjaer Now Genuinely Win the Title?

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Bruno Fernandes Manchester United

Can City and Leicester survive without their main men?

Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne has been ruled out for around four to six weeks, which could see City’s star man miss up to 11 fixtures in all competitions, which includes the likes of Liverpool away, Tottenham Hotspur at home, Arsenal away and Manchester United at home in the Premier League

Meanwhile, fellow title rivals, Leicester City, who are very much in the frame to challenge for the league at present, are set to be without striker Jamie Vardy for a similar time scale, which is likely to see the 34-year-old miss fixtures against the likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Liverpool, Aston Villa and Arsenal.

Both the Citizens and Leicester have significantly worse records when the likes of De Bruyne and Vardy are unable to play. De Bruyne didn’t start or play in six games last season, of which City won just one of these games, which came in a 5-0 demolition of Burnley, which has become a regular theme for City against the Clarets at the Etihad.

However, they did lose to the likes of relegated Norwich City, who were relatively unknown in terms of quality at that point, as well as in the Manchester derby to United, and to Southampton late on in the season, of which the Sky Blues created few chances to score in the latter two matches.

When the Foxes have started without Vardy in their starting lineup they have won just six of 14 games without him since the start of the 2018/19 season, drawing two and losing six, and one of these defeats was to Norwich last season, who were comfortably relegated in 20th place.

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United showing every element of a Fergie blueprint

Of late, United have shown resilience when beating the likes of Aston Villa, Burnley, Fulham and Liverpool with differing lineups and displays, meaning that their squad has remained relatively fresh due to frequently rotating their midfield and attackers.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has lined up with the likes of Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood when they beat Liverpool 3-2 on the weekend, where the two youngsters put in strong performances, as they both scored and assisted each other. Meanwhile, Cavani also won the free kick for the winning goal by Bruno Fernandes, and also came close to adding to his tally, when he thumped a header against the post in the final few minutes of the game, despite Liverpool chasing the game where United could have easily sat back.

Not many teams in the league have as many attacking options with as much quality as United, as Liverpool often struggle when having to lineup without one of Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane, whilst City struggle to field a striker at all, with the likes of Ferran Torres, Bernardo Silva, De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling all having spells as false nines.

United’s midfield has been going from strength to strength of late, having arguably passed every test in the league since their 1-0 home defeat by Arsenal on 1st November, as they have rotated between a 4-4-2 diamond and a 4-2-3-1 formation, often rotating Fred and Scott Mctominay for Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba. However, Pogba is currently going through a purple patch of form, as he was named Man of the Match for United in their 3-2 FA Cup win against bitter rivals Liverpool, as well as receiving this award against Fulham, Burnley and Villa in the league, as he scored the winning goal in the first two league games mentioned.

With so many players in fine form, such as Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire, United’s defence has also tightened up significantly since the start of the season, conceding five times in their last five games in the league, keeping three clean sheets.

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Manchester United to Win the FA Cup @ 5/1

Beating Arsenal could be the last obstacle to knock down

United’s next two league fixtures this month are against Sheffield United at Old Trafford and Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. The Red Devils are firm favourites to beat the Blades, who currently sit at the bottom of the Premier League on just five points and Solskjaer's men are expected to brush aside Chris Wilder’s side in a similar fashion to how they did last season at Old Trafford, as Anthony Martial scored his first senior hat-trick in a 3-0 win.

However, United’s match against Arsenal could be their most telling yet, despite previously having a good record against the Gunners in the Premier League era, Solskjaer has seen his side beat them just once, which came in his first meeting with them as United manager, in a 3-1 FA Cup fourth round win in January 2019. Since then, United have lost three out of their last four against the Gunners, scoring just once in the process, including that dismal display earlier in the season.

When the Old Trafford outfit travelled to the Emirates last season, Solskjaer’s side severely lacked quality on the ball and were soundly beaten 2-0, as Mikel Arteta claimed his first win as Arsenal manager thanks to goals by Sokratis and Nicolas Pepe.

In 2018/19, United were on a 12-game unbeaten run in the Premier League when Solskjaer took over as interim manager, which was ended by Arsenal who were then managed by Unai Emery, which turned out to be a damaging defeat, as United’s top-four ambitions that season began to falter.

This will no doubt be a big hurdle for Solskjaer’s side, however, if they do come away victorious from this clash, then they do have a run of fixtures before they play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on February 28th that they are expected to take maximum points from in their current form, which could potentially see the Red Devils create a gap to their title rivals.

Last time United were top of the table at the halfway stage was back in 2012/13 following a thrilling 4-3 home win against Newcastle United on Boxing Day, of which United only have David De Gea left from that side. However, the Red Devils do have a number of players who have won league titles before, such as Matic, Pogba and Cavani, which will bode well in high-pressure scenarios that they will find themselves in if they are to challenge to win the league for the first time in eight years.