Can Manchester United win the title?

By Noy Shani  @NoyShani  @TLE_Sport

A Robin Van Persie double gave Manchester United a tight 2-1 victory over an unlucky Southampton side on Monday at St Mary’s.  This was United’s fifth consecutive win and doomed Southampton to a third consecutive defeat.  United are now third in the league ‘just’ eight points behind leaders Chelsea.

Despite the impressive run of victories, United again looked poor in defence and gifted the home side numerous chances, which they unfortunately spurned.

This win raises an important question: can Manchester United catch on leaders Chelsea who lost for the first time this Saturday at Newcastle?  United’s rivals, City, lurk second, five points above the Reds.

Former Red Devil Gary Neville said on Monday night on the Sky Sports Monday Night Football show that in spite of their recent run, United are still “too short defensively and not at the level required.”  Nevertheless manager Louis Van Gaal, after an inauspicious start to his reign, has got his team winning consistently.  He was the one who said “judge me after three months.”  Well it has been five Louis, and your team aren’t doing half bad.

However, United did not deserve the win at St Mary’s.  If they continue playing poorly like they did, counting on luck alone will not get them far.

Or won’t it?  In the 1995-1996 season, Manchester United trailed leaders Newcastle United by a massive 12 points.  Those that back then thought United could win the title should have been taken to the nearest asylum.  Yet we all know what happened.  United went on a stunning run of form, Kevin Keegan had his infamous “I’d love it” rant, Newcastle capitulated and United regained the Premier League crown.

The 1995-96 season started terribly for United who then, unlike this season, participated in the UEFA Cup after finishing as runners up to Blackburn Rovers in the previous campaign.  Their European quest was halted surprisingly with a 2-2 away goal defeat on September 26th 1995 following a home draw with Russian side Rotor Volgograd.

But could a lack of European games work in their favour this season like it did for United in 95-96 and, more recently, for Liverpool in 2013-14?

United only had three shots on target in the entire match against the Saints, their lowest since 2003.  But let’s put this victory in context.  The Reds were missing no less than seven players for the visit to St Mary’s, including key players Angel Di Maria, Luke Shaw, Rafael, Daley Blind and Phil Jones.

If this list is not enough, Van Gaal also lost Chris Smalling in the first half thanks to a muscle injury, further weakening the defence.  “Scrappy win today but imagine what it would be like when we have all our players back fit,” said a few on Twitter.

Van Gaal himself was realistic in post match interviews, admitting United gave the ball away too easily and that the best thing from the match was the result, professing United had luck on their side this time.

So can United do the unthinkable and put together a hell of a run that will resemble their 13 wins in 15 matches from the 1995/96 season?  It has been done before against all odds, but back then they had one Eric Cantona at the peak of his powers.  United need someone of that ilk to step up to the plate and have the season of his life if United are to overhaul Chelsea and City.  Can they do it?  It is improbable but we shall have to wait and see.

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