Five wins from our remaining seven league fixtures will be enough to secure the title. Winning the next five on the trot would secure the league title away at West Bromwich Albion on Friday the 12th of May. Inside these next five matches we have three very tough away outings. Ending with the aforementioned trip to the Hawthorns, and beginning this Sunday away at Manchester United. Our records at the Hawthorns and the other remaining away match at Goodison park are not great. While winning last season away at West Brom, we have had notable reversals in fortune in the recent passed, with both Di Matteo, and Andre Villas Boas being dismissed after losing there. Everton away has been a dreaded fixture for some time for us. Although we have turned up with some belting performances there, notable in recent times was the 3-6 win three matches into our title winning 14-15 campaign. But that is our only one of two wins in eight there. Only Arsenal, Liverpool, and this weekend’s opponent Manchester United have beaten us more in the top flight. So it could be important to take something from this weekends match.
So we still have a lot of work to do, and emphasis now switches to the fixture at Old Trafford. We have beaten Manchester United twice at home this season already, destroying them 4-0 in October after Pedro netted inside the first minute, and 1-0 in the FA cup quarter finals. The second match was a much better performance from the Manchester club, and was reflected in the difference in score line from the earlier meeting. Until going down to 10 men in this match, it was a very tight affair. Mourinho changed shape for this fixture, effectively using a 5-3-2, getting his midfield three to shift across to pick up our wing backs, while his own sides wing backs picked up Pedro and Hazard in wide areas, and a spare centre back closed them down infield to restrict their areas of operation. This tactic did stifle us, but once they were a man light it didn’t work, and they were exposed in wide areas, particularly with Azpilcueta going forward untracked, as Rashford was now left on his own up top. Pogba was overrun in midfield, and Kante was in sublime form.
Whether Mourinho will opt for a similar tactic this time will be interesting to see. He may feel that with Manchester United at home this time around, a more attacking setup is required. Expect another tight affair, as he will be keen not to get beaten three times by us in the same season.
The midfield area could be a key battleground depending on what formation Manchester United opt for. The way he set his central three out in the cup match didn’t leave them with an extra body against Kante and Matic, as they had to move laterally when defending, meaning quick switches of play could find space for Alonso and Moses in wide areas. If he opts for a more traditional 4-2-3-1, or 4-3-3 this will be a different story. Either way we are likely to see a Pogba v Kante match up again. If Kante can neutralise his French compatriot once more, it could prove important, as this not only cuts out a creative threat for them going forward, but gives us a chance in transition on the counter attack, where we have proved deadly.
Four of our last five trips to Old Trafford have ended in draws, and another would not surprise me here. 0-0 doesn’t look a bad bet if the recent cup-tie is anything to go by. Hopefully if we can gain the upper hand in the middle of the pitch and exploit them again in wide areas we have the opportunity to take all three points here. Catching them in transition may be difficult though, if they do opt for a predominantly defensive setup again.