The return of the travelling fear factor
Home, they say, is where the heart is. That might be true but, if Manchester United are to wrestle the title back from City's grasp come May, they'll need to find a second home away from Old Trafford.
For all the criticism they’ve so far received this year, United have clocked up wins at Anfield (their first in all competitions there since December 2007), St James’ Park (where United had failed to score in the last two league outings) and, albeit in controversial circumstances, Stamford Bridge (the first time United left the blue half of West London with a league win in the last 10 and a half years).
In the corresponding fixtures last season United had picked up only a point, courtesy of a famous comeback against Chelsea.
While it’s too early to draw any meaningful conclusions from those figures – after all United had beaten Spurs at home and Everton away last season, while both games ended in defeat this year – Sir Alex will be delighted with the results, particularly as United managed to pick up maximum points, despite riding their luck in all but one of the three fixtures.
Last season United managed to win only once in their trips to Anfield, Stamford Bridge, Etihad and The Emirates and, while City didn’t fare much better, winning at Old Trafford and drawing at Anfield, United dropped too many points at home which proved costly in the end.
United’s record on the road this season – 4 wins in 5 games – is even more impressive when compared to the 2010-11 season, when United lifted their 19th league title, despite winning only four times away from Old Trafford in 19 attempts – their closest rivals Chelsea, in contrast, won seven times on the road.
The importance of coming out on top against the big rivals away from Old Trafford was highlighted by Michael Carrick, who described the win at Chelsea as “a huge three points”.
In a welcome return, United is redeveloping the ability to turn tricky situations away from Old Trafford into positive results rather than defeats as was the case 12 months ago.
So far the key to United’s success on the road has been a clinical and composed approach in the final third.
United might not create many chances, but they’re able to convert them most of the time, with six of the 11 goals away from home coming from open play and three from a set piece.
Such composure and a newly-found ability to create threats on set pieces are down in no small part to the arrival of Robin Van Persie, who has found the net five times away from home in the Premier League so far this season.
Fergie has always maintained that the season begins after Christmas and this year will be no different but, providing they can call Old Trafford home sweet home again, United’s form on the road in these early months of the campaign could prove crucial come May.