Irwin's advice for lifting morale
Denis Irwin has offered words of encouragement as Manchester United look to get back on track ahead of a busy spell for the club.
The legendary defender feels the last international break of 2021 came at a good time, in terms of allowing a period of reflection and a chance to refresh ahead of consecutive away games against Watford, Villarreal and Chelsea.
Accepting the pressure is on for the Reds, who have slipped to sixth in the Premier League table after the defeat to Manchester City last time out, Irwin feels it is imperative that we begin the run-in to Christmas with victory at Vicarage Road on Saturday.
"The international break has been good for us," the Irishman told club media. "The lads have been able to go away and get away from it all, enjoy what they do, playing for their international teams, and it was great to see United players like Harry Maguire scoring for their countries as well. England qualified with ease and have got an array of talent at the moment, I've got to say, and Harry scoring a couple of goals does him no harm at all."
When asked how the United teams he played in managed to overcome difficult spells and rebuild confidence, he said: "You just have to dig in and just have to work hard in training. As I said, the international break has come at the right time. Players go off on the international break and talk to other players about what is going on at other clubs. The ones not involved have had time away and it's sometimes good to get away from what's going on.
"We have to come back and start on the front foot on Saturday against Watford," he asserted. "We've got three away games within a week or so and that might be good for us, that we are away because our home form has not been great of late. They are three big matches. At Watford, start on the front foot and get back to winning ways. Villarreal won't be easy [in the Champions League] but, hopefully, we can get a point over there.
"And, of course, Chelsea away. It's a big week for us and we must make sure we come back, stick together and really try to get going again. We've stuttered, no doubt about that, and it's been a tough month and a half really. We had a good result at Spurs but the five or six league games prior to that have been difficult.
"We have to bounce back. We're under pressure, as you'd expect at Manchester United, as we've fallen out of the top four and there is distance now between us and the top two or three. We have to start on the winning track quite quickly so we can get back up there."
While Maguire was one of the success stories of the World Cup qualifiers, our Portuguese contingent suffered late disappointment in being overtaken at the head of their group by Serbia, when Aleksandar Mitrovic headed an injury-time winner this week.
It means the Euro 2016 winners go into the play-offs next March, along with Euro 2020 winners Italy, and Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Diogo Dalot will all be determined to help their nation go through to the big stage in Qatar next year.
"They will be desperate [to reach the finals]," added Irwin. "I watched Portugal's game against Ireland in Dublin. It was 0-0 and there were not too many chances created, although Ronaldo had a great chance with a header.
"Then they came up against a very good Serbia team, who are playing particularly well at the moment, and they'll be desperately disappointed, they were at home and only needed a draw to qualify for the World Cup. They'll now have to wait four months to qualify but I still expect them to go through. They're one of the seeded teams so will be drawn at home in the semi-finals."