What do Manchester United Need to Actually Win the Title?

Bruno Fernandes Manchester United
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The stats that make for a title challenge?

Manchester United's win over Wolverhampton Wanderers means the Red Devils will finish 2020 second in the Premier League table after an exceptionally improved year which has seen Bruno Fernandes transform the club's fortune and help them return to one of England's very best.

In this calendar year, United also sit second in the Premier League table of 2020 behind their arch-rivals Liverpool, but there are no two ways about it now: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is building something and we need to take note.

Also, as well as Fernandes' phenomenal statistics of 43 goal involvements in 46 games since joining in January, the club have also seen their defence move from their worst-ever Premier League record set in 2018/19, to moving up to the third-best defence in the league with the addition of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka the following campaign.

Now, with the ultimate showdown at Anfield in three weeks, just as Manchester City build some form for the first time this season, what do United need to actually compete for the 2020/21 title? Because it's pretty simple right now: this is title-competing form from the Old Trafford crew.

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Keep Fernandes in bubble wrap

Injuries seem to have been the thing in Premier League title races of the past few years, with the injury to Aymeric Laporte creating chaos for City at the back last year and handing Liverpool the title, whilst the Reds' inability to create a big enough gap on United have come since the injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez.

And, whilst all these mishaps have happened for United's rivals, the Red Devils have remained relatively intact the past 12 months, with Paul Pogba's injury in 2019 the only major concern. There are also injuries to the likes of Luke Shaw and Eric Bailly every now and then, but these are two players who have remained replaceable throughout and not upheld the great importance of the likes of Maguire.

However, one thing they cannot handle is an injury to Fernandes. As mentioned the Portuguese is the main reason United are even in this discussion with 26 goals and 17 assists in 46 games for United since leaving Sporting Lisbon 11 months ago.

The statistics are that of a 1994 Eric Cantona and a 2013 Robin van Persie, despite the fact Fernandes is positioned further back in the forward line. And, right now, only Harry Kane has been involved in more goals (16 goals, 13 assists) than United's number 18 this season from a Premier League side, and considering Kane is ranked as the arguably the best centre forward in England, it's fair to say Fernandes is perhaps the most influential player in the country at this moment.

It's perhaps not a case of if injuries will derail United's season, but how they must avoid them in general, as an injury to Maguire could break their defensive stability even more, whilst Marcus Rashford's 14 goals and eight assists in all competitions so far is only bettered by Fernandes himself and can't be overlooked either.

Truthfully it is this simple: United can't afford a van Dijk-esque injury to one of their top players, especially their Portuguese magnifico, because otherwise, they lose an extraordinary bulk of their goals. And, it's not the most outrageous claim to state that Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool are more equipped mentally and physically to contend with such season-changing injuries than Solskjaer and United are.

Are Manchester United title contenders?

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They must have a little hope

Right now, everybody in England is chasing Liverpool, end of story. In truth, the Reds have been so dominant in the league the past two years that they have accumulated more points than anybody since the beginning of 2018 and stretched an unbeaten record at Anfield to three years. So, with this in mind, United must simply hope that Liverpool hit more roadblocks.

The injuries at the back have no doubt changed things and the reason for the close gap between the two sides is pretty obvious. However, the ability throughout the squad, manager and tactics in the two sides still ways heavily in Liverpool's favour and there is still little to argue against the Reds being the best of the best in English football right now.

As for United, they must keep turning in results and the manner in which they defeated Wolves shows the fight, determination and luck are beginning to become recurring themes in their battle for this title; something the club have built on for decades but lost in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.

But right now, Merseyside still has one up on it's Manchester rivals and if United are to snatch number 21 and prevent Liverpool getting their number 20, a little hope could go a long way, as it's ultimately, still, not in their hands and Liverpool's to lose.

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Whatever is going on right now, Solskjaer needs to bottle it up

Solskjaer's task in hand at United was always going to be as brutal as anything out there because it's this simple: second is the first loser at a club of this stature. Yes, second is an improvement from years gone by, but it's still a failure for what is the most successful team in the history of top flight football in England.

However, right now, whatever Solskjaer is doing is working. The players seem to be playing for the manager, the club and the occasion, rather than themselves. The desire to commit until the final kick has returned. The chances are flowing as a team and not just through individual superiority. And ultimately, everything is moving as a unit and the talent across the squad is doing the rest for the manager.

The counter-attacking style United have adored for years is being met with possession-based threats and the defensive stability is looking more like a work in progress than a worry that could derail their season.

It was just a matter of weeks ago the #OleOut brigade were out in full force, but right now, their arguments have been busted open and every single one of them is gradually bleeding out as Solskjaer and co. get closer and closer to officially being called 'title challengers'.

January signings?

In January last year was where the foundations for this stint of sensational form began for United as the club finally put pen to paper with Fernandes. Now, almost 12 months on, there are still little niggles and obstacles to overcome to officially call Manchester United title contenders.

So, one January later, do United need January transfers once more and will they actually get anybody? Well, in the realist description of if United need signings, yes. But in the reality of what tends to go on in January, no. Ultimately, with the current landscape of football and no fans causing all sorts of financial concerns, clubs are unlikely to splash the cash in the summer, nevermind the January window, where not much goes in and out of clubs in a normal world.

However, this is United and reports will emerge daily, and rightfully so, as it's still clear the club need reinforcements across the pitch. The need for an extra centre-back is evident, given how Bailly struggles to get more than five games under his belt without injury, whilst questions remain over Victor Lindelof as a partner next to the club captain, Maguire.

There are also slight concerns in other areas of the pitch, where players like Wan-Bissaka remain the only out-and-out right-back, with Diogo Dalot on loan and Brandon Williams fluctuating between the reserves and the first team. And now, with the Europa League knockout stages just around the corner, as is the FA Cup and the League Cup all within January, it's clear United are going to need to rest or buy players to give those consistently in the lineup a rest.

At the back for United, Ben White is currently priced at 5/2 to join the club, Sergio Ramos 14/1, Tyrone Mings 25/1, and Conor Coady 14/1.


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