Hammers test is key in race for top four
There appears no escaping the fact that Saturday's game against West Ham United has emerged as a pivotal one in the chase for a place in the top four of the Premier League.
Manchester United's 3-1 win at Brentford sets things up nicely for a third meeting with the Hammers this season and an opportunity to head into the international break with renewed optimism.
Ralf Rangnick's side are in seventh place in the table, behind a run of four London teams, starting with third-placed Chelsea. West Ham, Tottenham and Arsenal are next in the standings but the Reds know victory at the weekend would catapult us into the top four, even if it may only be for a day.
Nonetheless, it would exert pressure on the other challengers and send a message that United are ready to climb the table.
Given the context of the game, it is more than a little surprising that it kicks off at 15:00 GMT and is not being broadcast live in the UK. However, this does present a chance to not only overtake the Hammers but also Arsenal and Spurs. On Sunday, the Gunners are due to entertain Burnley, who have suffered a spate of postponements of late, while Antonio Conte's men have a big derby at his former club Chelsea.
The Blues have not been in the best form themselves and, although clear in third, they have played more games than their rivals (four more than Tottenham and two more than United).
West Ham will provide stern opposition, as has been the case in our previous meetings this term. The Reds won a dramatic game 2-1 at the London Stadium on 19 September, with Jesse Lingard's late goal only proving to be the winner when David De Gea saved a stoppage-time penalty by Mark Noble.
Three days later, David Moyes's team gained some revenge by progressing in the Carabao Cup at Old Trafford, courtesy of the only goal of the tie, scored early in the first half by Manuel Lanzini.
If United can pull off the league double over the east Londoners, as we did last season, it will provide a huge boost at what feels like a critical time in the campaign.
Although there is an FA Cup fourth-round tie to look forward to on 4 February, against Middlesbrough at Old Trafford, we do not have another league fixture until 8 February, with the midweek trip to Burnley.
That feels like a long time to wait and seems some way off. The transfer deadline will have long passed and we'll be entering the next phase of the season. Hopefully, more work on the training ground will have prepared the Reds for what lies ahead, with the Champions League round-of-16 first leg, away to Atletico Madrid, to follow later next month.
The win at Brentford was a step in the right direction but another three points at the weekend would help lift spirits further to get us through this next quite lengthy pause in action.
The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Manchester United Football Club.
PREMIER LEAGUE - GAMES/POINTS:
1. Man City 22/56
2. Liverpool 21/45
3. Chelsea 23/44
4. West Ham 22/37
5. Tottenham 19/36
6. Arsenal 20/35
7. UNITED 21/35
8. Wolves 20/31