It has been a long, expensive and often turbulent journey, but Manchester United are back in a place they used to know so well: the top of the English Premier League.
A 1-0 win at Burnley on Tuesday, secured by a deflected volley from Paul Pogba, lifted United above great rivals Liverpool to the summit of England’s top division after 17 games, approaching the halfway point of the season.
“We are exactly where we belong,” United midfielder Nemanja Matic said.
The great Alex Ferguson was still in charge the last time United led the standings this deep into a league campaign. That was in the 2 to 012-2013 season and Ferguson would go on to lead United to the title in what proved to be his final season as a manager.
Can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer do the same?
The Norwegian said this week that “no one remembers the January league tables,” but it did not stop him having a look of satisfaction at the final whistle.
Quite justifiably, too, given the criticism he has faced in his two years in charge, mostly from those who believe he is not qualified to be a manager at this level.
Yet he has done something that David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, his three predecessors following Ferguson’s retirement, were unable to do — at least this far into a season. United was briefly on top in September 2017, while a season-opening win over Leicester City in August 2018 put the team in first place for one day in what proved to be a false position.
United moved into a three-point lead over Liverpool that could immediately be wiped out, with Solskjaer’s side heading to Anfield on Sunday.
“We’re ready, we’re excited, we’re hungry for it, and it’s a test of character and quality again. We’re in a good position going into it,” Solskjaer said.
It was a slog against Burnley, as it often is at Turf Moor, with the hosts defending diligently before being undone by a cruel piece of fortune in the 71st minute.
Pogba met a cross from Marcus Rashford with a first-time volley from the edge of the area that struck the outstretched leg of Burnley rightback Matt Lowton and ricocheted through the legs of goalkeeper Nick Pope.
The final whistle was met with roars from the United players — especially from Pogba — as it was inside an empty Bramall Lane a few hours earlier after Sheffield United ended the longest winless start to a Premier League season.
After 18 league games, the Blades finally have a victory.
A 1-0 victory over 10-man Newcastle United was secured by Billy Sharp’s 73rd-minute penalty and came as a huge relief for manager Chris Wilder’s side, who are still in last place — on just five points and nine points from safety — but at least have a glimmer of hope of staying up now.
“I thought we were in control and confident on the ball, and it was a deserved win. It looked like we got our identity back,” Wilder said.
The last time Everton visited Wolverhampton Wanderers, they lost 3-0 in July to drop to 11th place in the league and prompt a furious response from manager Carlo Ancelotti, who questioned his players’ spirit in what he described as an “unacceptable” display.
Six months later, they returned to Molineux and won 2-1 to climb to fourth place — the final UEFA Champions League qualification spot — and make it five victories from six games.
Michael Keane’s 77th-minute header clinched victory, after Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves’ volley in the 14th minute canceled out Alex Iwobi’s first league goal in 17 months.
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