This Manchester United team still do plenty wrong – but one thing they have down to a tee is being able to take a punch. They have a strong chin.
Ademola Lookman was the latest opposition player to score the first goal in a United fixture, meaning the league leaders have now won seven Premier League games having gone behind this season. That equates to 21 points picked up from losing positions – 11 more than the next-best record, posted by Liverpool.
Conceding first is seemingly when United are at their most comfortable. That pressure to go and chase a game brings out their game-changing talent. At Fulham, it was Edinson Cavani and Paul Pogba who rose to the occasion, putting in outstanding performances backed up by quality finishing.
As we approach the halfway stage of this bonkers season, United obviously need to show more components than just staying calm in matches to sustain a title bid. But one thing in their favour is their ceiling level – they haven’t reached it yet. There is without question more to come from a team that still have yet to really put in that “wow” performance that reeks of a potential title winner. Surely there is one is around the corner soon.
Manchester City have been flying for some time now and a sixth consecutive Premier League win took them top of the table on Wednesday night, albeit only while they waited for Manchester United to play catch-up.
The manner of their win over a good Aston Villa side was more impressive than just another three points moving them superficially to the position of champions.
In both boxes, City did what they had to, something over the past year and a half they haven’t done enough. Their slow start to the season owed a good deal to being unable to kill games off – scoring only once to draw with West Ham, West Brom and Leeds, and none at all when beaten 2-0 at Tottenham in November.
It looked like it could be a similarly frustrating night against Villa to halt their surge up the table, but they had the winning touch that you need to get three points when you are not at your best.
How many times in their back-to-back title-winning seasons did we see them dig it out late on? Remember Sterling versus Southampton, even Kompany versus Leicester? Maybe Silva versus Aston Villa will have its own page in their history books if they are top of the pile by the end of the season.
There is a long way to go, but with Ruben Dias and John Stones looking the solid partnership no one could have predicted and the goals starting to flow again in attack – even without Sergio Aguero – City are as in the mix as they have been for a long time.
Scott Parker is a manager who wears his heart on his sleeve. There was no hiding the frustration he felt watching Ruben Loftus-Cheek squander two fantastic chances to pull level against Manchester United. He knows chances like the ones Fulham are creating need to start dropping and the Cottagers need to turn plaudits into points.
Defensively all is pretty rosy with a good shape to Fulham’s play whilst in midfield, with Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa at the heart, they knock the ball around with great confidence. However, it’s in the box where they crumble. Since their 2-1 win over Leicester in November, they have scored just four goals, the lowest return of any Premier League side during that period.
Loftus-Cheek was the culprit this time around, further enhancing the flaw within his game in front of goal. A player in his position, carrying that sort of talent really should have more than just 10 Premier League goals to his name in 90 appearances.
One thing that has been understandably lost amid the wonder at West Ham’s form this season is how they have finally, finally turned the London Stadium into a fortress.
It would be unfair to suggest the only thing the Hammers needed to improve their home form was to play in front of an empty stadium because their form has been built on 14 points from nine away games as well.
But back-to-back wins in Stratford, such a weight around the neck of the club for so long, means only Liverpool and Manchester City have picked up more points at home.
So much of that comes down to removing their soft underbelly. Things were looking good when Jarrod Bowen chested in an injury-time opener against a newly confident West Brom on Tuesday night, but the moment Matheus Pereira equalised five minutes after half-time, you wondered whether this was going to be a familiar capitulation.
Not this time. Having weathered the storm for a few minutes, Declan Rice twice came close before Michail Antonio turned on a sixpence to fire in a wonderful winner.
The 30-year-old Antonio deserves his own mention. Bigger, perhaps better, attacking players have come to the London Stadium to take West Ham to the next level. He has seen them all off. At his peak, when fit, he is capable of leading the line of a team heading for Europe. And the signs increasingly suggest the team behind him are good enough to get there too.
This content was originally published here.