United are back and ready to define the season
Forget about internationals, forget about the World Cup. The next two months are exclusively about Manchester United and a high-profile finale to the 2017/18 season.
Domestic football is increasingly dominant across the football calendar and, while Russia 2018 will undoubtedly rule the sporting agenda this summer, we’re not ready to delve into that world just yet. There is business to attend to back home in Manchester and the stakes are high.
From the players on the pitch and managers in the dugouts, to the fans in the stands and supporters around the world, these next eight weeks are what everyone has built towards since the fixtures were released on 14 June. As a collective, we’ve invested our time, hearts and minds for this denouement.
That was an unnecessary reference for the digital age but the point is simple: it is a marathon, not a sprint, and we’re Mo Farah closing in on the 22-mile mark in London… okay, I’ll stop there!
The mission for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United is clear: finish second in the Premier League, win the FA Cup and consolidate what can be viewed as another season of progress at Old Trafford.
The third element of that statement may ruffle some readers who are dismayed by the prospect of finishing second to Manchester City being defined as progress, and it is right to never accept a runners-up position as success. This club is about setting high expectations and winning at all costs. That should never change.
Yet the long-term project should remain in focus throughout this turbulent period of transition, with trust placed in the manager’s plan to bring success at the highest level back to Old Trafford.
It will read like spin from the club website, and perhaps it is, but the facts show we finished sixth in 2016/17 with 69 points, which is four more than we currently have in second place with eight games left. It's highly probable we will reach the 80-point mark and that's enough to be champions in many seasons.
Personally, with the optimistic mind of a football fan, I have to believe that two, three or four more world-class signings in the summer will force that red line of progress to rise further in 2018/19.
This game is also the precursor to the imminent Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium and an occasion in which City can hypothetically win the title, which sends shivers down the spine of every Red. Yet that is also a perfect opportunity to send a statement of pride and intent for next season.
But let’s not think about that just yet. This week I’m celebrating the return of United and the Premier League, and the commencement of the campaign’s final eight weeks.
It’s a time to rally together, to relish Old Trafford and embrace the final few away days. But, above all, it’s a time to support the lads, cross your fingers and hope the 2017/18 story ends with a high.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.