Manchester United gave an indication with their opening win of the season against Leeds that they might be ready to mount a Premier League title challenge sooner than expected – but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team have to make the most of a favourable early run of fixtures.
United weren’t at full strength against Leeds, with Jadon Sancho only appearing from the bench and Raphael Varane unveiled just moments before kick-off. Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani were also absent from the squad, while Anthony Martial started on the bench.
With the likes of Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes already standing out from the crowd, that offers plenty of promise that as players return and reach full match fitness, United will get better still.
But if they are to seriously challenge for the Premier League title for the first time since they last won it in 2013, United have to start getting as many points on the board as early as possible, not least because a favourable run of games between now and October is a perfect opportunity.
Before the end of August, United face Southampton and Wolves, both of whom lost their opening fixtures and are expected to finish in the bottom half this season. No team with title expectations should settle for fewer than maximum points in those games.
After the September internationals, United resume against Newcastle and then a trip to London to face West Ham. The Hammers will offer a sterner test but are weaker than last season after losing Jesse Lingard and will have played their first Europa League group game only days earlier – that domestic/European balance can be tough to manage for teams who aren’t used to it.
United then finish September by facing Aston Villa at home and start October with another home game against Everton, having already thrashed the latter in a pre-season game earlier this month.
United’s first really challenging game arguably doesn’t come until the seventh round of fixtures after the October international break when they face Leicester at King Power Stadium. That is the first of four consecutive tough games, with clashes against Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham immediately following it before another pause for the November international break.
The fact that several challenging matches come back-to-back in quick succession makes it all the more important that United take as close to maximum points as possible prior to that to build momentum and give themselves some margin for error when the more difficult games do come.
United cannot win the Premier League title by October, but failure to capitalise on their opportunities now could quickly stop them from being able to get in a position to do so later.